Social Media Background Checks

Should HR managers conduct background checks on Google, Facebook, and other websites? Recruiting Daily Advisor editor Stephen Bruce examines the risks and benefits of social media background checks in this HR Compliance Corner video blog.

SB: This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor. Today we have a question from Allison K in Chicago.

She asks, ‘Should we do social media background checks or not?’

Great question, Allison. Right now there are two sides to this issue. One side says that such checks are dangerous, for several reasons:

First, you’re sure to find out information about applicants that you don’t want, such as race, religion, age, etc., and that information could be used against you if you don’t hire the person. He or she could always say, ‘You didn’t hire me because of my race, or because of my disability, or because of my family responsibilities.’

In addition, there’s a danger of making a decision based on false information, either due to confusion of names, or purposeful placement of malicious information.

Finally, there’s also some risk related to invasion of privacy and misuse of websites, if, for example you access information with an assumed name or under false pretenses.

However, the other side says, you must do social media background checks. Advocates of this approach say it’s now part of due diligence to do a social media background check, and if you fail to do it, events down the line could cause you to be accused of negligent hiring.
For example, say a person turns violent and injures other employees, and a pre-hire Google search would have uncovered a history of violence.

So, now to the question of what you should do.

Most experts recommend that if you do such checks, you should at least protect yourself to some degree;

  1. First of all, there are firms, like, for example, that will perform a check for you, “redact” the information you wouldn’t want, such as race or religion, and deliver to you just the information pertinent to the candidate’s ability to do the job.
  2. If you prefer to do your checks in-house, you can achieve nearly the same protection by insuring that someone outside of the direct line of hire, like an HR staffer, does the check. Again, that person would pass on only acceptable pertinent information.
  3. You can do checks only for the top candidates, thus reducing somewhat your risk of a lawsuit.
  4. You can get a release from the applicant.

And here are a few things NOT to do:

Don‘t gain entrance to a site (like Facebook, for example) under false pretenses. And don’t assume that everything you see online is true.

So, Allison, good luck with your background checking and all your HR challenges. This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor.