May 10, 2011

What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Stay in Vegas: Best Practices For Using Social Media in The Recruiting Process

Several attendees at the May 10 Social Media Breakfast Briefing asked about best practices for use of social media in the recruiting process. A candidate’s publicly-available social media profile may provide valuable information related to his or her work qualifications, interests and negative work history or behavior.

Social media searches used during the recruiting process must be consistent and carefully crafted. Failure to establish a consistent search methodology may yield too much information (e.g., information on protected status such as ethnicity, disability, pregnancy, or union affiliation) and therefore may generate a claim for failure to hire or for post-hire discrimination.

So, what are some guidelines for social media checkups during the hiring process?

1. Consistency: All applicants should be processed consistently. Any searches should be conducted at the same phase of the interview process (e.g., before the initial interview or after the first phone screen). The process should be followed for each candidate without regard to age, appearance, or perceived lifestyle choices. If you decide that not every position merits investigation using social media checks, designate particular job categories or departments that are included and consistently follow those guidelines.

2. Designated searcher: The organization should designate one employee (or small group of employees) to conduct the search. As an alternative, the organization may want to engage a third party service provider to perform the work. The employee conducting the search should not be the hiring manager.

3. Screen the hiring manager: The goal of naming a designated searcher is to avoid revealing protected information to the hiring manager. Protected information includes, for example, data about the age, race, religion, disability, genetic information, and political association of the candidate.

4. Limited scope: Before incorporating social media searches in recruiting, the organization should identify the social media sites they wish to search, focusing on securing relevant, work-related information. The search should seek publicly available information; do not allow the searcher or others in the recruiting department to “friend” an applicant in order to see private profile information.

5. Disclosure to applicant: Follow the same notice and disclosure policies the organization already has in place. Include a proviso regarding social media on the organization’s application for employment or in a separate disclosure.

6. Document results: Those conducting the review should consistently document the results of the social media search, removing any protected information that was inadvertently obtained. Search results should be maintained consistently with the organization’s recordkeeping policies.

7. Document the basis for hiring decisions: If you use social media search results to reject an applicant, such decisions should be based on legitimate, job-related reasons (e.g., work history was inconsistent with resume). The decision should be documented consistent with existing recruiting policies and procedures.

8. Communicate the policy to hiring managers: Hiring managers should be informed of the organization’s policy, and should be specifically advised not to perform their own social media searches.

If you have any questions about this information, please feel free to contact the Foster Pepper Employment & Labor group. Materials from the May 10 Breakfast Briefing, including a sample social media policy, are available here.

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