Let’s say you’ve found the “perfect” candidate for your veterinary tech. She’s skilled, great with animals and compassionate with people. What more could you need, right? But, shortly after you hire her, you notice she regularly uses swear words at work that make others feel uncomfortable and spends too much time sharing her political views with anyone she can corner. There’s no way you could have known that ahead of time, though . . . right? She just knew how to interview well, you tell yourself, and this was an unavoidable problem. Right?

Well, maybe not.

A ten-minute review of her Facebook page (okay, a five-minute review!) told you all of the above, and more. So, does this mean that, going forward, you should check interviewees’ social media pages during the screening process?

Employer Statistics

If you do, then CareerBuilder.com’s The Hiring Site says you’re not alone. Employers who are reviewing candidates’ social media accounts are steadily increasing:

  • 2013: 39% of employers check
  • 2014: 43% of employers check
  • 2015: 52% of employers check

And, these employers go above and beyond simply reading what can be seen. Many are also sending friend requests to these candidates to obtain full access to a person’s social media profile and postings. In fact, more than one third of employers surveyed do so (35%) – and, interestingly enough, 20% of those requests are turned down by candidates!

Employers say they are looking for positives, not negatives, with 60% wanting information to back up a person’s qualifications, but 21% say, yes, they are checking to see if there are reasons NOT to hire someone.

Is This All Legit?

The short answer is, yes, this is legal when handled appropriately. However, proceed with caution, says hiring site Monster.com. Once you have reviewed a prospective employee’s social media profile, a court will “assume you are aware of that person’s ‘protected characteristics’ that are often part of their online postings.” This includes but is not limited to “religion, age, sexual orientation or disability.” Armed with these insights, you must be especially careful not to ask interview questions that are outside the legal scope, or use this information in your hiring decisions in a way that’s beyond legal limitations.

This article provides insights from David Baffa, a labor and employment partner at Seyfarth Shaw, LLP. His advice includes:

  • Waiting to review social media postings until after you’ve met face to face. This helps to reduce the likelihood of being accused of making a snap judgment based on social media information or inappropriately using protected characteristics in your interview questions.
  • Consistently reviewing social media information for each candidate, including doing so at the same point in the process for each.
  • Saving and/or printing screen shots of areas of concern, ones that cause you to “question the candidate’s candor, professionalism or judgment.”

Final Considerations
If this all sounds too complicated or fraught with pitfalls, know that this issue isn’t going away. At one time, background checks were considered to be controversial. Phone interviews were thought to be suspect by many employers and telecommuting options seemed impossible.
The reality is that technology, notably the Internet, has radically changed the way the world conducts business, and using social media as a screening tool is likely to only become more common – and, if you resist using it, you may be hurting your chances of getting the candidate that best suits your needs and fits your culture. This isn’t to say that you must use social media as a screening tool, but it does suggest you need to explore options, come up with a well-thought-out policy (even if the policy is to NOT review social media pages of any interviewees) and then strictly follow that policy.