Searching for Candidates on Facebook? Know the Difference Between ‘Sourcing’ and ‘Screening’

May 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

By Rob Pickell

Our guest blogger Rob Pickell is senior vice president of customer solutions for HireRight, a provider of on-demand employment screening solutions.

Social media has rapidly become so ubiquitous in everyday life–both business and personal–that all companies are faced with the question of how or if they will use social media screening as a part of their hiring process. Seventy-six percent of companies say they are currently using or plan to use social media sites for recruiting this year, and more than half believe that social networking sites are an efficient way to recruit candidates, according to SHRM’s Research Spotlight: Social networking Websites and Staffing. What these numbers do not reflect, however, is what percentage of those companies that say they are using social media for “hiring” are only using these sites for sourcing candidates as opposed to using social media to actually screen candidates. The difference between the two, according to screening and legal experts, can be a critical one.

Using online resources to find good candidates, particularly when many applicants are posting data for the purpose of interesting a potential employer, is a rapidly growing, accepted hiring practice. Using social media for sourcing does encompass the risk of the hiring professional discovering information about protected groups, but so far this has not proved to be a legal or regulatory issue. Since networking to make hiring connections is a long-time practice, social media is usually thought of as a simple extension of that custom.

The difficulty arises when social media is used by companies for candidate screening which occurs after an application has been made and is employed for the purpose of “excluding” candidates that may be inappropriate. The potential legal issues arise in two main areas:

  • Discrimination: Most employers have stringent employment policies that prevent the hiring professional from coming into contact with potentially discriminatory information. Visiting a person’s social media site, however, clearly may reveal large amounts of information contrary to these non-discriminatory practices. In addition to a photo that shows race, age and possibly ethnicity, applicants regularly disclose information about marital status, religion, affiliations, politics, disabilities, and even social interests that by law must be ignored in a hiring decision.
  • FCRA Regulations: The second issue has to do with the application of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as it relates to social media. The FCRA identifies background screening companies as “consumer reporting agencies” (“CRAs”) and outlines specific requirements of employers and CRAs in the screening process. Employers must receive permission from applicants before performing any pre-employment checks through a background screening company. There are also rules that must be followed if any information gathered by a screening company adversely affects the hiring of the individual, even if there are additional reasons for the employer’s decision. As part of these rules, CRAs must meet certain accuracy and consumer dispute obligations that today would be challenging to fulfill given the nature of social media site content being published and controlled by consumers – content that can change at any time.

Most employers want the exposure to customers and good candidates that involvement in the social networking environment provides. It becomes important, therefore, to develop policies around the use of social media that protect the company from risk of unfair or discriminatory hiring issues while addressing hiring needs, all in a manner consistent with the company strategy and risk profile. Companies may choose to use social media only for sourcing but restrict its use in screening or, at minimum, employ practices that reduce risk of litigation. It’s very likely that legislation and case law regarding the use of social media in screening will become clearer in the future. Meanwhile, it behooves employers to establish policies that protect against any discriminatory practices.


Entry filed under: HR Management, Recruiting, Social media.

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