Great Insight About Social Networking and Employment Screening

Nick Fishman

Just found this great interview with attorney Jacqueline Klosek from Goodwin Procter about the dangers of using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace for employment screening purposes.  Among the topics discussed is troubling screening policy adopted and later rescinded by the city of Bozeman, MT.

Create Job Applicant Screening Policies Upfront– by Lora Bentley, IT Business Edge

Bentley: I’ve read about the public outcry that resulted from the City of Bozeman, Mont.’s decision to ask job applicants for their social networking site user names and passwords. Obviously, there are enough problems associated with that practice that the city discontinued it. Can you explain?

Klosek: It’s just, in my mind, fraught with legal dangers. For example, what you post on your own Web site, the writings and photos and such, you’re really using someone else’s service. And for the most part, if you provide your password to the sites in which you participate, you could be violating their terms of use, which could leave you as the user subject to potential claims, including termination of your account or worse.

Then, as an employer, say you ask someone for their user name and password and then give it to another employee to do the screening, you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do with that information. With the user name and password, they’re basically impersonating the person whose account it is. They can send e-mails that purport to be on that person’s behalf, they can review e-mails that were sent from other people… It could be mundane personal communications, but there could also be trade secrets being exchanged, or a host of other things behind these protected e-mails. It’s just a minefield of dangers, in my view.

Bentley: What if you are using the Internet to screen prospective employees without their user names and passwords? Aren’t there still risks in doing that?

Klosek: A great majority of potential employers do screen applicants using at least publicly available portions of the Internet. In some respects, there can be meaningful information on some of those sites, but you’re right to suggest there are risks in doing so. The biggest risk is that you may find too much information — information that, as a prospective employer, it may be dangerous for you to have.

For example, laws that we have in the States would prohibit inquiring or basing employment decisions on factors such as age, family status (whether or not you were looking to have children) …. Most employers are well-versed in avoiding those topics in the employment process, but they may access that information online.

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Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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