Part 1 of this series addressed what employers should avoid when using Facebook or other social-networking sites to screen potential employees. In Part 2, we looked at some of the steps employers should take to minimize the legal risks associated with this practice. In this final part of the series, we look at two more steps that employers should consider implementing into their best-practice routine.
Once your list is created, the rest is easy–but equally important. Designate an individual who will perform the actual search (i.e., the “Searcher”). Here is the key: the Searcher must not be involved in the hiring decision. Human Resources can perform the search, for example. In smaller organizations without a dedicated HR staff, the manager of one department may be the Searcher when a different department is hiring, and vice versa.
Once the appropriate person is designated, the search may begin. If any of the items on the list are found, the Searcher documents them on the form and, preferably, prints or makes a copy (i.e., with the print screen feature) of the offending material. That information and only that information may then be turned over to the hiring manager for consideration.
The reason this step is so critical is that it effectively prevents the hiring manager from learning information that cannot be used in the hiring process–such as religion, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristic. This separation of knowledge can be a key component to defending against a failure-to-hire lawsuit.
Start Talking (Again)
In the event that a hiring manager is inclined not to hire a candidate as a result of what turned up during the online search, there are a few additional steps that should be taken. First, the hiring manager should present the candidate with the information. Identify the basis for concern and provide the candidate with a meaningful opportunity to explain. There is, after all, more than one John Smith registered with Facebook . And, since the Searcher has no interaction with the candidate, mistaken identity is not out of the realm of possibility.
Finally, make sure that everyone in the organization with any connection to the hiring process is aware of and understands the new practice. Make it clear to supervisors that they are not to search the Internet for information about a candidate prior to the decision to hire. Have supervisors acknowledge the policy in writing and review it periodically to ensure compliance.