July 29, 2019  

3 Steps to Keep Social Media Background Checks Simple

Social Media Screening Social Media Background Checks Pre-Employment Background Checks

New ways of screening candidates often raise new questions. Even when your legal questions around social media and online screening are answered, and you’re confident that you’ve got compliance figured out, plenty of operational questions remain. When working with clients, we sometimes hear that our users are overwhelmed by all the scenarios they might encounter when working with publicly available online information. How are you supposed to incorporate an entirely new form of information into your hiring process without derailing your current approach?

Good news—there’s not much you need to do at all. In fact, the information that comes to you in a social media screening report isn’t all that different from information that comes to you in an interview or through a reference check. Social media and online screening use the same frameworks that HR departments are already using to make smart and ethical hiring decisions, while offering a new and pertinent form of information. That means there are essentially three possible actions you can take when reviewing a candidate’s online information.

Three Possible Outcomes for Social Media Checks

#1 No Action Needed

For the vast majority of applicants, no further action is needed! That means you can really focus on the few cases that do require attention.

Reports that don’t need further action usually take one of two forms. The first kind of no-action report doesn’t contain any negatively flagged posts or articles. Assuming you’ve included all the information available to you when submitting the candidate’s details, you can feel confident that the applicant carries no indicators of potential risk.

The second kind of no-action report does contain flagged content, but doesn’t reflect negatively on the applicant’s ability to carry out the functions of the role. Perhaps the candidate has an unusual after-work hobby or has mentioned use of a legal recreational drug in limited quantities. In any case, if the information surfaced has no bearing on the applicant’s ability to successfully perform the job you're hiring for, no further action is required.

#2 Adverse Action

In some cases, you discover that your candidate has acted in ways that are in direct violation of company policy. Perhaps this candidate publicly threatened a coworker on social media, which violates your policies on workplace bullying or violence. Or, the candidate is found to have written a series of bigoted posts, and you know such behavior is detrimental to the customer care position you’re hiring for. When the behavior surfaced is in direct contradiction with the roles and responsibilities of the job, one route you can take is to begin the adverse action process.

#3 More Information Needed

In a smaller number of cases, you find something that’s concerning and potentially job-relevant, but aren’t clear on what it means for your hiring decision. When this happens, we encourage our clients to view posts or articles as a starting point for further investigation. While some of your investigations may lead to insights that spur an adverse action process, other investigations may surface mitigating factors that result in a more nuanced course of action.

For example, let’s say you come across a tweet from 7 years ago that’s been flagged for sexism. If you discover that the candidate has shared a slew of misogynistic posts over several years, you might then proceed to adverse action based on your company values and the job description. However, if the candidate has no other indications of bigoted behavior and a positive reference from a recent female boss, it’s possible that the post was simply a poorly made attempt at humor. In that case, it may make more sense to approach the candidate and have a conversation about that post, while still moving forward with the candidate.

Simplicity Is Key

There are really just three main actions you take: you may choose not to hire the individual, continue with the hiring process, or investigate an item of concern—just as you would with any other form of information you come across in the hiring process. At the end of the day, screening publicly available online information still leaves the decision in your hands. It’s simply a way of giving you more robust information to help you make more confident decisions.

Disclaimer: Please note that the materials available in this post are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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