You Must Be Careful When You Use Social Media in Hiring

Magnifying_GlassIf you said TMI a generation ago, everyone would have known you were talking about Three Mile Island. Use the same acronym today and everyone knows you’re referring to “too much information” – and too much information is what small business owners can get when they turn to social media in the hiring process.

There are ways social media can help us when we’re looking for employees, but they can also be misleading and even lead us into legal problems. Let’s look at some of the pitfalls and how to best avoid them.

Protected classes

The place to start is with understanding the legally protected classes and characteristics with regards to employment. Among these are sex, age, race, religion, disability, genetic information, national origin and pregnancy. You can easily see that many of these can be discovered through a person’s social media profiles.

A good first step to take so you avoid legal problems is to not make social media screening something you do early in the hiring process. You may want to learn more about candidates as you narrow down the field and have considered other input, such as after an interview. An in-person interview would reveal most of these protected characteristics so you could not be accused of using social media for discriminatory purposes.

Next, if you do choose to use social media, be very consistent in your approach. Do the same searches for each candidate and if you find something that raises a red flag, take a screen shot of it so you can document exactly what has caused your concern. Also, don’t ask candidates for their passwords.

It’s just social media

When you’re weighing what you have discovered through social media, always keep context in mind. We will talk to our friends and families in ways that are far different than how we conduct ourselves at work. Also, don’t put any weight on what others say about your candidate. There might be inside jokes you don’t understand, or the third party might be holding some kind of grudge.

On the positive side, if a candidate has a social media account that seems to be centered around your industry, it can be a good indicator that the person is serious about continued growth and success.

Getting outside help

There may be other laws in your area that govern employment, so you need to make sure you’re fully aware of your boundaries. Hiring an experienced local company to do screening for you is one way you can protect yourself. You may also want to invest in an hour or two of time with an attorney that specializes in this area.

Lastly, although we have been discussing hiring here, you also need to be careful in the firing process. For example, a court decision has established employees’ right to discuss wages, hours, and working conditions in the social media without fear of retaliation by the employer.

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