Can you screen job applicants using social media?

A number of employers feel that social media can be a great way to research candidates, get more information than what is included in their CV and get a taste of someone’s personality and if they could be a good organisational fit.

Applicants will be also looking through corporate social media profiles to get an insight into your company’s culture and business.

But there are some risks that you need to think about.

Are you discriminating?
The main risk that arises from an employer using social media during the recruitment process is the risk of claims of unlawful discrimination.

By law, it is not permissible to discriminate, either directly or indirectly, because of the ‘protected characteristics’ specified in the Equality Act. These protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Applicants are protected from being discriminated against during the recruitment stage, therefore it is essential that any information you obtain when looking through their social media profiles is not used in a discriminatory way.

Just because you see numerous pictures of the candidate with children, you should not assume that they will be unable to juggle family and professional life effectively. Equally, do not presume that because their tweets show that they practice a particular religion that they will be unable to “fit in” to your company and get on with managers and colleagues. If you do not offer an applicant the role based on any of protected characteristics, the applicant may make a claim to an Employment Tribunal on the ground of discrimination.

Is the information you find accurate?
Another risk is whether the information that people post or upload to their social media accounts is entirely accurate. Ask yourself:

  • Has the person created a profile just for employers to see and to feed a particular image?
  • Is all the information on their profile accurate?
  • Do the half a dozen pictures or few tweets you can see accurately represent the person?
  • Are you 100% sure that you have found the right person?

Are you using professional or personal platforms?
LinkedIn, for example, may be useful when screening candidates as it is considered a professional platform. Generally, individuals include their job titles, summary of each role, outline their key skills and specify their qualifications; thus it can be a good tool for an employer to verify someone’s CV.

However, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are much more personal in nature and focus on connecting with friends and family. Will you find relevant information about their professional experience or how their skills lend themselves to a role by looking through their summer holiday pictures or reading banal chit chat between friends?

Remember, you should not use social media sites to stalk candidates and dig as much ‘dirt’ up as possible, but find out targeted and relevant information that helps you consider their suitability for the role they applied to.

Are there privacy or data protection concerns?
Some applicants may feel that their privacy has been invaded if these searches have been conducted without their knowledge. However, employers argue their profiles on these social media websites are in the public domain – it is their responsibility to manage their privacy settings and it is their choice what information, photos and opinions they share.

At present, it is not clear how far a ‘right to privacy’ applies in respect of social media. However, the CIPD advises that to avoid the risk of legal claims, you should make applicants aware that you may carry out searches on their social media accounts. The applicant should also be given the chance to make comments on the accuracy of any discoveries you make, where those findings are part of the decision-making process.

It should also be remembered that information obtained through social media may also be subject to employers’ obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998. The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued guidance on pre-employment vetting (see pages 23 to 25).

Am I missing out on good candidates?
Remember, just relying on the information you have found on social media could mean you are missing out on the best candidates in the market. You should be focusing on assessing an applicant’s suitability for the job and explore the areas set out in the job description, person specification and application form. Avoid any questions or making judgment on matters that are simply not relevant to the job’s requirements.

Do you want expert legal advice on how to handle the recruitment process and avoid costly claims? Call Ellis Whittam today for quick and easy-to-understand guidance from one of our Employment Law Advisers.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

Whether you’re facing an immediate challenge or just want the reassurance of an expert second opinion, we’re here to offer clear, commercial advice so that you can focus on what you do best.

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