Vetting potential employees on social media - where do you stand?

A recent survey of UK businesses found that the majority of employers check the social media profiles of potential candidates during the recruitment process.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

The survey by risk assessment firm Protecting found that 74 per cent of managers look at candidates’ Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profiles and 68 per cent had rejected a candidate based on social media postings.

Although people’s understanding of social media and their ‘digital footprint’ has increased, the majority of social media users still retain at least one of their accounts (usually Facebook or Twitter) for personal use, and therefore are likely to post comments on there that they would not do on a business related site.

It is widely accepted that anything posted on a publicly available social media timeline (ie. not an account that is restricted) is in the public domain and therefore, it is not against the law for an employer to look into a potential or existing employee’s social media profiles. How employers act upon this information is where things become a bit trickier.

When undertaking searches of potential employees’ social media accounts, employers need to be mindful of discrimination on the grounds of any ‘protected characteristics’ i.e. sex, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy, maternity, marriage and civil partnership and also gender reassignment.

The display of photographs on social media profiles can give away a great deal of information about a person and as such, employers need to be mindful of how they base their selection decision; employers can and have been sued for discrimination during the selection and recruitment process.

So far as existing employees go, it all depends whether the business has a social media policy in place. The aforementioned study found that 24 per cent of business leaders interviewed had warned current staff over their social media presence. Having a clear social media policy in place sets guidelines for employees that, if found to be broken, can justly lead to disciplinary action. The water is far muddier if there is no social media policy in place; any disciplinary action resulting from inappropriate or defamatory posts on social media could be on shaky ground should the employee raise a grievance.