Part 5: Background Checking

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Hi Brent, Now that we have identified the players who should be involved in making decisions about social media policies, let’s back up to the beginning of the hiring process. What part should social media play in hiring someone? In short—should you check your applicants’ social media presence?


First, let’s make it clear that we are only talking about a person’s public presence. Requiring someone’s passwords for “friend-only” sites is tacky. And even illegal per se in some places.

For the check of public presence, you must balance two risks. If you don’t check, and it turns out there is something really bad you should have known—like all those DUIs before you let the person drive a van full of children—you could be negligent. If you do check, and it affects your hiring decision, you could face a discrimination claim. What kinds of claims? We talked about this some with GINA and genetic information discrimination. What about discrimination based on disability or moral standards? 

Your standards as a religious organization may be quite different and more specifically defined than a secular organization, and that may be allowed. For example, you might have a no-alcohol or no-porn policy. You should to talk to legal counsel about standards your organization wants to impose and whether that puts you at risk of legal action. Counsel can also help you make sure that organizational documents and policies are consistent with your beliefs.

To do a social media background check but avoid claims of discrimination, you can put in a process. You can use someone neutral to do the checking—either someone involved with the organization who is not otherwise involved in interviewing or making decisions about hiring the person, or a third-party vendor. (If you use a third-party vendor, you will be subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.) Do the screening after the interviews, and identify only certain red flags that should be reported to you, consistent with your organization’s policy. Be upfront that a check will occur. Document the training of your employees and the screening records carefully.

Done cautiously, social media screening can be helpful.


Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations