The article speaks to the bank's decision to block all access to social media sites in an effort to prevent the bank's human resources personnel from accessing the personal profiles of job applicants. The article states that the bank's outside counsel recommended the policy in an effort to prevent unnecessary employment-based litigation. The article used the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as a key motivator, since it is plausible that an applicant's social media profile(s) may contain mention of a pending pregnancy or of other information that employers are not permitted to request. The danger is that upon discovery of such information, the bank's human resources personnel may be "perceived" as having acted on such information if an applicant is not hired. As such, if the bank's policy does not permit access to such sites, the bank has a strong defense against any such complaints.
While at first blush that bank's position may seem a bit severe and short sited, given that that almost 40% of employers have used Facebook and other social networking sites to gather information on job candidates and more than 80% of employers consider that negative information discovered when making hiring decisions, this was not an entirely bad decision. Further, during tough economic times people may be more apt to file frivolous compliants.
A related blog article at gNeil, titled Dangers of Using Social Networking Sites to Screen Applicants, stated that when a company uses the Internet to research job candidates and even current employees, there are some very important legal issues to keep in mind such as:
- Invasion of privacy. Some social networking sites state specifically in their terms of service that is is illegal to use users’ profile information for commercial purposes.
- State protected privacy. California and New York have laws preventing employers from interfering in employees’ private lives outside of the workplace.
- Discrimination. Even if you stumbled across an applicant’s personal information unintentionally, it is unlawful to deny employment based on protected categories such as age, race or gender.
- False information. It’s probably not surprising, but users on social networking sites don’t always post information that is entirely true. It’s best to rely on information that the applicant directly gives you.
- Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If you’re using an outside agency to conduct background checks on job candidates, you must comply with the FCRA and receive the applicant’s consent before starting the background screening process.
So, while it has been said that the Internet is the new resume, banks should carefully craft thier background check procedures - especially those that utilize social networks. For example, use of LinkedIn would likely be acceptable since it is primarily used for professional purposes. However, other platforms such as Facebook and MySpace may be undesirable. While the use of these sites may provide helpful information relative to the character of the candidate, certain information may expose the bank to litigation.
According the the gNeil blog, "to avoid potential discrimination lawsuits, develop a uniform procedure for using social networking sites in the hiring process. Train everyone involved in the hiring process to treat every applicant consistently to avoid trouble and document each step you take. With the rate at which new technology emerges, it’s almost impossible for the law to keep up the pace. When you use social networking sites to research applicants, you may be taking uncertain legal risks with every search you make."
Amegy's CEO was quoted as saying, "good hiring decisions are among the top two or three decisions here, because it is where a lot of risks are managed." This is definitely true. And social media applications may help to reduce risk by identifying potential hazards. Unfortunately, human resource law is not Web 2.0 compliant and as such, taking advantage of these tools as part of the human resource process will require careful consideration, strong policies and procedures and an increased appetite for potential litigation.