Employers that implement online screening practices such as social networking searches through social media sites like Facebook may be unattractive or reduce their attractiveness to job applicants and current employees alike, according to research from a study conducted on the effects of social media screening in the workplace presented at the 27th Annual Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Conference in San Diego in April 2012. For more information, read the article ‘Judging a Facebook by Its Cover’ on the SIOP website at http://www.siop.org/article_view.aspx?article=991. In the study by North Carolina State University (NCSU) coauthors Will Stoughton, Lori Foster Thompson, and Adam Meade: “175 students applied for a fictitious temporary job they believed to be real and were later informed they were screened. Applicants were less willing to take a job offer after being screened, perceiving the action to reflect on the organization’s fairness and treatment of employees based on a post-study questionnaire. They also felt their privacy was invaded.” Stoughton, a doctoral candidate in industrial and organizational psychology at NCSU, said that studies show nearly two out of three employers – sixty-five percent – screen job applicants through social networking websites. While organizations may practice social network screening to find the best applicants, the study found that “the social network screening process actually reduces an organization’s attractiveness for the applicant and likely the incumbent worker.” Stoughton said while employers typically look on sites like Facebook or Google for pictures of alcohol or drug-related use and remarks about previous employers or co-workers to weed out bad job applicants, screening social networks doesn’t always accomplish the intended goal: “By doing this, you assume the applicants that organizations end up choosing are more conscientious, but no studies show that these individuals are any better,” he said. “They could actually be eliminating better applicants.” Background check expert Attorney Lester Rosen agrees. “Employers need to carefully consider any practice that may discourage the best applicants from applying,” said Rosen, founder and CEO of background check firm Employment Screening Resources (ESR). “Even though there is a historically high unemployment rate presently, certain positions are still very difficult to fill, and in the long run, as the baby boomers retire, the competition for talent will become fierce.” To help employers better understand the legal dangers that come with social media background checks and solutions to avoid them, Rosen has authored a white paper titled ‘Managing the Risks of Using the Internet for Employment Screening Background Checks.’ Recently updated in March 2012, the white paper warns employers could encounter legal landmines while using social media background checks that include:
- Too Much Information (TMI) that could lead to discrimination allegations.
- Too Little Information (TLI) that could potentially expose employers to negligent hiring lawsuits.
- Credibility, accuracy, and authenticity issues if information found online about job applicants is not true.
- “Computer Twins” and “Cyber-slamming” since most people have other people with the same name and can also be victims of false postings by another person.
- Privacy issues since everything online is not necessarily “fair game” for employers.
- Requiring applicants to provide Facebook or other social media passwords which can lead to lawsuits for invasion of privacy.
- Legal off-duty conduct revealed by a social media search in a number of states that have prohibitions limiting use of private behavior for employment decisions.