June 19th, 2018 | Sterling

How to Be Hiring Compliant in a Social Media-Centric World

With over 30% of the world’s population using social media, it is hard to avoid news that is shared via social media platforms. Social media has consistently been featured in the news either with data privacy issues, “outside” sources purchasing ads to influence voters or President Trump’s latest twitter posts. Users feel that they can post whatever they like or think that their “audience” might like., but, there can be consequences to the content that some people post on social media. A high-profile example is the canceling of the rebooted “Roseanne” show by ABC after the star, Roseanne Barr, sent a string of offensive tweets which sparked outrage on Twitter and Facebook.  The concern over social media posts is beginning to feature more significantly in the hiring context.

In our latest webinar, “Background Screening Checks: Are You Compliant?” Steven Smith and Mark Sward from Sterling plus Bianca Lager from Social Intelligence led a lively discussion about social media screening The panel of experts touched on who should be included in a social media background search and why, what a thorough social media and online background search includes and how it can reduce your risk for negligent hiring and how to ensure compliance by understanding what information you can, and cannot, consider in your hiring decision.

The Growth of Social Media and Hiring

While the US may have been first to adopt social media background checks, there has been an explosion in the adoption rates of this type of check worldwide. It is a reflection on the importance that is placed on social media in today’s society. Employers can’t ignore social media any longer, because the trend is only going to continue to grow.

According to The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), in the US, 56% of recruiters say some of their best candidates are sourced via social media while 90% of recruiters use social media to vet candidates pre-interview. In the UK, a survey by Monster.co.uk and YouGov revealed that 36% of UK employers had rejected a candidate based on their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn profiles, while more than half of UK HR professionals admit that a candidate’s online reputation can influence their decision to hire them.

Social Media Screening Trends

We asked webinar attendees how their organisation currently carries out social media screening. 31.4% said that sometimes HR may informally check LinkedIn (or similar) profiles before interview selection, 27.5% stated HR doesn’t perform social media checks, but hiring managers may sometimes do so of their own accord, while 25.5% said they do not perform any type of social media checks. The responses contrasted somewhat with what we found in our “Background Checks 2018: UK Trends and Best Practices Report” which showed that 60% of businesses don’t perform social media screening as a part of a background check programme. The small numbers of people performing social media checks through a third-party organisation reflect employers’ uncertainty of doing these types of checks. Businesses have a “healthy fear” of this type of screening, especially if they haven’t created their own social media screening policy.  But more and more companies are coming under pressure not to accept the type of candidate or employee who shows online behavior which could be considered intolerant, racists or violent as they could ultimately impact their organisation’s reputation.

Character Search

When conducting social media screening, the main component of the check is a Character Search. It searches for negative behaviours a candidate may exhibit online by scanning all publicly available content. The focus is on the user only. Non-user generated content or comments are not reviewed. Social media screening looks at seven years of data on the social platforms. They will look for certain trends for the candidate’s posts. If there are multiple posts that are racist or intolerant, then that might raise alarm bells with the candidate. Where there is a “one-off” incident which may appear to be out of character, it could be a good idea for employers to ask the candidate about it and find out more about the context of that particular post.

Reduce the Risk for Negligent Hiring

Employers must understand there are risks for negligent hiring involved with social media screening. Uncontrolled social screening could lead to increased employer liability. Social media profiles list many protected characteristics about a person including age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, race, religious beliefs, sex, sexual orientation and pregnancy or maternity status. This information cannot be collected by an employer or used in hiring decisions. Employers should not “friend” or “follow” potential candidates. Legal concerns could be raised for employers who request candidates to give them access to their social media pages to get a position or force them to “friend” them to see their social media activity. This could be considered an invasion of a person’s privacy.

Create a Clear and Concise Social Media Screening Policy

Where there is not one already in place, employers should consider creating a screening policy, with a dedicated section on social media checks. This should be created by and for the company and while certain issues that arise should be considers on a case-by-case basis, a policy will help to ensure consistency and compliance. Candidates must be informed if a social media or other online source is used to research information that could affect their application. It is important that the right steps are taken and that employers are transparent to their candidates and employees about the processing of their data.

It is highly recommended to use a third-party screening company for social media searches. A third party social screening solution will only focus on the relevant information that relates to job performance and workplace safety. Whereas, a hiring manager could look at a social media profile and unconsciously (or consciously) make a hiring decision based on looks or post types. There is a fine line between being compliant and looking for information about a candidate’s personal life from their online profiles.

Find out more information about social media screening including examples of social media issues scenarios and compliance best practices in the OnDemand version of the webinar.

Please note: Sterling is not a law firm. The material available in this publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We encourage you to consult with your legal counsel to obtain a legal opinion specific to your needs.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.