HR – A Guide to Vetting Candidates on Social Media

HR departments need to be aware of the legal issues when vetting potential candidates’ social media profiles. CIPD have released a new guidance for employers on what constitutes good practice when conducting pre-employment checks.

Drawing on consultations with HR professionals and employment lawyers, ‘Pre-employment checks: an employer’s guide,’ offers advice and help to navigate the legal risks and ethical challenges involved in investigating the social media activity of a potential applicant on social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter during the recruitment process.

The guide highlights the need for HR professionals and others involved in recruitment to exercise due diligence to find out if applicants might bring the organisation into disrepute or cause difficulties with managers, colleagues, customer and suppliers. It also highlights the legal risks and ethical challenges involved if inappropriate steps are taken or applicants are not made aware of the checks being carried out and given a chance to respond to findings.

Recent research revealed that two in five employers look at candidates’ social media profiles and activity to assist in recruitment decisions, but very few inform applicants as a matter of course that this is being done. But just how aware are recruiters of the legalities around this kind of vetting? Employers have wide discretion within the law to decide whether or not to recruit a particular candidate.  However, to avoid risk of legal challenge they should be fully aware of the law on data protection and discrimination in employment.

Employment references should only be sought once a job offer has been made, and that employers should apply the same level of care in avoiding unconscious bias and discrimination when online checks are being conducted, reasonable steps to validate the accuracy of information accessed online, and draw a distinction between social media used for mainly private and professional purposes – for example, checking LinkedIn but not Facebook.

It is also recommends that employers seek permission to research candidates’ qualifications, experience, dates of employment and right to work in the UK.

Many people admit to having lied on their CV, particularly about their experience, qualifications or salary. Employers have a right to check candidates’ online profiles, the information obtained needs to be strictly relevant to the job the candidate is applying for rather than about their personal lives.

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