It’s so easy to do Google, Facebook and LinkedIn searches on people. And that’s just a start. The Internet gives multiple ways to dig into backgrounds, memberships, interests and behavior. Everybody does it, right?
There shouldn’t be a job hunter left on the planet who doesn’t realize that it’s smart to clean up social media accounts when pursuing a serious job application.
And there shouldn’t be an employer or candidate screener who doesn’t know that social media searches pose a potential litigation problem if not applied fairly to candidates.
Darren Dupriest, of Validity Screening Solutions, recently told a rapt audience of human resource practitioners that government watchdogs increasingly are sniffing out discriminatory, or disparate, effects in the way employers investigate job candidates.
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“There’s not a lot of case law yet to determine what’s legit and what’s not,” Dupriest told the meeting sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. But employers should be consistent in the kinds of digital background checks they undertake.
“There is a rise in class action lawsuits filed by plaintiffs’ attorneys for disparate impact violations,” he said, noting a companion rise in the use of computer forensics to discover that some people’s applications are treated differently from others.
Background screening can, of course, be more rigorous the higher up a position is, he said. But that means each candidate being vetted for a particular post should be researched on the same platforms and to the same depth.
Equally important — and job applicants should be aware of this — recruiters and direct hirers should get a signed and dated release from the job candidates being researched before the background checks begin.
Those permission slips should be obtained even if the job applicant has included social media information in his application materials. “It’s better to get the candidate’s OK before digging deeper,” Dupriest advised, noting that the permission slip must be a separate document, not included as boilerplate on an application form.
He also reminded attendees that the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers to tell job applicants if they find derogatory information, including providing screen shots that identify the source of the negative information that caused the candidate to be eliminated from consideration.
Dupriest said employers should have written background checking policies that are repeatedly updated. Policies should define the nature of social media searches and state that consistency will be applied in searches for work-related issues.
It’s a tough challenge. One Facebook picture of someone drinking at a tailgate party might elicit a completely different judgment from a Facebook picture of another candidate drinking at a cocktail party.