Social media is great for staying connected to family and friends, sharing jokes, opinions, and interests, and keeping up-to-date with current trends and events. It can also be where potential employers go to do additional screening before making their hiring decisions. In fact, according to a study by CareerBuilder, nearly 70% of employers screen their candidates using social media and what’s more surprising is 57% of employers are less likely to even contact applicants who lack an online presence.

Sure, finding a new candidate can be tough, and using all your tactics to determine if a candidate is a good fit before sending out an Employment Offer Letter is usually a good idea. But can reviewing someone’s social media put you in a difficult legal situation?

The truth is, if you use information under protected grounds (e.g. race, religion, color, gender, etc.) to make your hiring decision, yes. Moreover, even when you think looking at your applicant’s Facebook profile won’t influence your decision inappropriately and possibly illegally, it could.

Find out how in this post.

Can You Legally Look at a Candidate’s Social Media?

As long as a hiring manager reviews public posts and information, there are no direct laws that prohibit them from reviewing a candidate’s social media and using the information to make their decision.

There are plenty of laws that prohibit discrimination. In our blog post, 15 Questions You Can’t Ask Employees, we discuss common interview questions that could leave you liable for discrimination. If you’re able to answer these questions just by looking at your applicant’s social media accounts, then you could find yourself in hot water.

Essentially, these laws prevent employers from dismissing qualified candidates over prohibited grounds, including color, race, sex, religion, or national origin.

This means when you visit a person’s Facebook or Instagram page, you’re collecting information that could unknowingly and possibly inappropriately influence your hiring decision. In fact, even simply looking at the applicant’s profile picture is risky.

In general, viewing anything that allows you to infer the candidates’ age, skin color, race, gender, religion, etc. is a problem, and although you can make every effort to be objective when it comes time to decide between applicants, unconscious biases can sometimes affect your decision.

How Do Biases Affect Your Hiring Decision?

A bias is when prejudices cause you to favor (or disfavor) a certain type of person or group in an unfair way.

For instance, humans are naturally drawn to people who are similar to themselves. This means something like finding out a candidate has similar religious beliefs as you could cause you to favor their application over others, even if you don’t think you are doing so.

Another instance of bias could be if a person has unconscious, stereotypical views of a certain type of person or group.

For instance, if someone thinks an individual of a certain gender or race are more skilled or less skilled at something than their counterpart (like if a person thinks women are better communicators than men), they could unknowingly allow their views to influence their decision and hire a particular applicant over another for the wrong reasons, even if the other applicant is equally as qualified for the position.

The issue here is that most people aren’t aware of their biases and how they can affect their decision making. Reviewing an applicant’s social media can bring to light inappropriate information that should never be used when choosing a new employee like gender, race, or religious beliefs.

How to Hire Objectively

While screening an applicant’s social media is quick, easy, free, and tempting, it can make your decision subjective, and with a bit more time and effort, you can gather all the details you need to make an informed, objective decision.

Start by acknowledging all the position’s requirements and evaluating each applicant’s qualifications and ability to fulfill those requirements. If you have multiple candidates with comparable skills, consider doing a competency assessment (like a writing prompt or test) to help you determine each applicant’s proficiency level.

Likewise, you could also compare your candidates’ mannerisms using a personality assessment. These assessments can show if the applicant’s personality is a good fit for the company and may help you narrow down your choices.

Keep in mind, unavoidable biases will always affect your hiring decisions and may even help prevent you from hiring an inadequate applicant. For example, you may be less likely to hire someone with a diploma from an institution with a reputation of low education standards.

Whatever process you choose, remaining objective can help you select the best person for the position while limiting discrimination on any of the protected grounds.

Screening Applicants Using Social Media

Screening an applicant’s social media is not an objective screening tactic. It can easily influence your hiring decision and even leave you liable if the information you use to assess your candidate is protected under the Civil Rights Act.

So, in short, although social media screening is an easy way to ensure the person you are hiring is respectful, reliable, and responsible, it’s a risk, and you should definitely think twice before doing it.

Posted by Ashley Camarneiro

Ashley is an experienced researcher and writer with an interest in real estate, contract, and family law. Before starting at LawDepot in the summer of 2017, Ashley worked as a legal assistant in the corporate and family law sector.