When it comes to a job candidate's social media profiles, some employers would rather remain in the dark.
"In today's sluggish economy, job candidates might be nervous about efforts by potential employers to look for them on social networking websites like Facebook or Twitter," reports MPR News' Annie Baxter. She writes,
Unless job applicants have strict settings on their social media accounts, they may broadcast revealing details about their lives, including their drinking habits, political views, weight, race and marital status.
Such information makes some employers nervous. They would rather avert their eyes.
Joel Patrick Schroeder, an employment attorney with Minneapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, told The Daily Circuit's Tom Weber that his firm advises employers to make sure they have a legitimate business reason for plumbing a job applicant's social media identity. Because of the nature of the work they do, some employers will place a high value on image and online presence; other employers won't have much reason to care.
"If challenged in court, a company will be in a much better position to defend itself if it can articulate, 'Here's exactly why we do this and why it's important to us,' rather than 'I don't know, we were just curious'," he said.
It's also a good idea, he said, to separate any social-media inquiry from the hiring process. He offered a short list of rules that employers should follow.
• Make sure they have a process in place.
• Be consistent: Review social media for all applicants, not just some.
• Keep that review of social media pages separate from the person making the final hiring decision.
"And that can be tough in a small company," Schroeder said. "A lot of times companies will outsource this to a third party to do it for them, so there's that real clear separation between information you're learning on social media and the final hiring decision."
Employers are being careful with social media because, as Schroeder pointed out, "The law is really developing in respect to social media. Social media wasn't around when these antidiscrimination laws were passed in the 1960s." And those antidiscrimination laws cover a wealth of personal information that is routinely available on social media sites, such as:
• Sexual orientation.
• National origin.
• Marital status.
• Political affiliation.
"As we all know, some of these protected characteristics, such as race or age, are going to come out potentially in a resume or a job interview anyway," Schroeder said. "It's on the employer to make sure that it's not using those protected characteristics when making its hiring decision."
In other words, it's probably better not to know.