Social Networking Sites and Job Applicant Screening

Lora Bentley

Last month, the city of Bozeman, Mont., was the focus of much discussion among social networking sites and privacy experts. The city was asking job applicants for their user names and passwords to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other such sites. Not only were they perhaps encroaching a little too much on prospective employees' privacy, they were also causing the applicants to violate user agreements with those sites.


After a couple of days, the city backed off and is no longer asking job applicants for social networking log-in credentials.


That's a good start. At least that way Bozeman is not requiring that applicants violate the site user agreements. However, the city should be careful about even perusing information they can find on social networking sites without log-in credentials. The same is true of any employer, actually.


If, in the process of what some have called "screening" on a social networking site, the employer inadvertently comes across information about the applicant's age, race, family planning, religion or any other protected status, and that information improperly influences the hiring decision, they could then be liable for discrimination on state and/or federal levels.


So is it appropriate to do any screening via social network sites? If so, how should one best go about it to avoid collecting "off limits" information? And, if such information comes up, what then? How does the employer protect itself from potential discrimination claims?


I plan to speak with a privacy law expert to get some answers shortly, so stay tuned.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 8, 2009 12:07 PM MIchael Becker MIchael Becker  says:

Thanks for the post. I live in Bozeman and have been writing about the city's privacy fiasco since it came to light. I'd be very interested in learning what you find out from the law expert.

Jul 13, 2009 12:44 PM Austin Austin  says: in response to MIchael Becker

I agree, this certainly creates the potential for discrimination issues in the screening process.   However, as an prospective employer myself, I see the use of publicly available social networking information as a viable method of vetting employees after they've been interviewed.   If employees are willing to put their life out there to be examined, they shouldn't be surprised when prospective employers examine it as it pertains to the job they will be asked to perform.  Many of the employees I've hired have actually used these social mediums in a "smart" way to demonstrate their ability to responsibly market themselves while still providing their family, friends, etc. to share in their life online.

Jul 13, 2009 12:56 PM Jan in TX Jan in TX  says: in response to MIchael Becker

Social Networkers should still consider what they publish to the world.  It is not hard to mask a reason for passing over an applicant.  Even if an employer has "strict guidelines" about discrimination - it is not easy to legally prove that that someone read your profile and made their decision based on the info.  I read comments on facebook, myspace, etc regarding the user's current employer, co-workers, neighbors..politics, etc - and think - WOW - if I read that, it would be very hard to get past this in an interview, because this person is an arrogant "****" and I would not hire them to empty the TRASH!  It would not be that difficult for me to find another applicant with similar qualifications, and find SOME way to hide the fact that I have observed their interactions online.  It is generally not that difficult to outsmart someone ignorant enough to air their laundry in public!!

Aug 3, 2009 11:17 AM Greg May Greg May  says:

Social network can be biased because if you dislike someone you wouldn't in general add him/her into your network.

But yes, it is to a certain extent effective. I had a case where my colleague tried to help his friend by giving false information. This is also the negative side of relying on the social network.

Aug 5, 2009 6:12 AM Ted Ted  says:

But social networks can fail to support the criminal record background check. I don't think it is common to tell the others that your friends have done something bad.


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