Conducting Informal Social Media “Background Checks” is Risky

credit check, background check, employee background checkLegal experts say that employers who perform Internet searches on employment candidates risk violating employment and privacy laws. At a recent conference, employment attorneys warned that Googling applicants is akin to interviewing them, and employers should avoid doing so.

Internet searches can lead to inappropriate or incorrect assumptions about a candidate. For example, seeing photos of an applicant in which she is drinking, attending a religious service, protesting for a cause or in a hospital bed can automatically bring about questions or judgments that have nothing to do with her skills or ability to do the job. You cannot ask her about her religion or health in an interview, so why would you subject the candidate to an online search of her personal life in which these topics come up?

In addition to jumping to conclusions, there is also the chance of mistaken identity. There are plenty of people who share names, but nothing else. One John Doe is a successful and respected business professional, while the next John Doe has an extensive criminal background. You can’t be 100% sure that you’re looking at your applicant’s profile unless he has given you access to it.

The attorneys advise that employers should obtain an applicant’s permission before conducting an Internet search, and then give them the opportunity to explain any questions that come up.

The conference attendees also heard advice about using caution when determining how employees can and should use social media. Policies should be established that set guidelines for employee use, to prevent them from harming the firm’s reputation or business.

In a related matter, employers should also review their liability insurance policies to be sure that they are covered in case of lawsuits stemming from employee or employment candidate use of social media.

Employers in every industry are vulnerable to sensitive data theft, financial losses, security breaches, and safety issues. Pre-employment credit checks and criminal background screening on all applicants can protect your company and your staff from possible harm.

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