Your employees are your business’ most expensive asset. According to one estimate, up to a third of a person’s salary is devoted strictly to hiring costs. The cost of hiring the wrong employee is even more- reportedly up to twice an employee’s annual salary. Making smart hiring decisions can be tough- you want an employee that has the requisite skills, qualifications, and certifications, but you also want someone that’s the “right fit” for your business. While it’s relatively easy to verify whether or not an employee graduated from a particular institution or has a driver’s license in a certain state using a background check, the “good fit” question can be a little bit more complicated.
Social Media Searches in Hiring
The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act defines a “consumer report” as “…any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living….” You’re not the only one thinking that that description is a little vague. A social media search, especially when conducted by a third party as part of a background check, can constitute a “consumer report” for legal purposes. A social media search also typically reveals all kinds of information that is “off limits” for consideration during the hiring process- for example, a person’s race, age, marital status, etc. You can’t consider these characteristics or a host of additional factors- for example, whether the person is pregnant, disabled, or belongs to a certain religious group. Even if you come across this information when you’re not specifically looking for it (as with a social media search), it’s impossible to unring the bell. What’s worse, information may not even be accurate- you may end up discounting a great prospect because of information they weren’t even aware was posted.
Disclosure and Consent
The best policy (if you want to avoid liability) is one of full disclosure- tell the prospective employee that you will perform an online search. The FRCA requires notice to prospective employees whenever you prepare a consumer report (as defined above)-whether you prepare it yourself or use an employment background check service. Outsourcing employment screenings can be a great idea for businesses that aren’t sure about the regulations, procedures, and policies that they need to comply with to perform a legal background search. Though legal opinions vary with respect to social media searches in hiring, it’s better to err on the side of caution- and FRCA compliance.
About the Author
Merrin Muxlow is a writer, yoga instructor, and law student based in San Diego, California. She writes extensively for Resource Nation, a company that provides resources for business owners, and is a frequent contributor to several sites and programs that offer tools for entrepreneurs, including Dell and BizEquity.
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