Posted in: Employment, Employment law, In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News and Views, Legal and compliance, Recruiting
Should you batten down the hatches and call the lawyers before the Facebook furor wraps its death grip around your company’s HR functions? Despite the gloom and doom, here’s the real story — and what it means to you. It’s actually pretty straightforward.
But the media jumped on the idea of businesses requiring job-seekers to provide access to social media accounts such as Facebook, (HRDR, 3/22/12) framing it as an assault on our personal and Constitution-guaranteed liberties.
On closer examination, most of the cases cited in these stories weren’t even recent.
Sources as diverse as Fox News and NPR were guilty of overlooking the calendar when reporting on so-called injustices.
Facebook officials were forced to scramble to assure members it condemned the practice and would do everything possible to protect their passwords and privacy.
One reason: Legal precedent in handling social media-privacy is sketchy.
- If you’re going to ask an applicant for information, stick with what’s related to the job — and whether the person is capable of doing the job. It’s likely the usual suspects — resume, references, employment testing, criminal background checks — will provide what you need to know to make a good hiring decision.
- Digging into someone’s personal social media account could expose your company to accusations the information found there influenced your decision to turn down the job applicant. If he or she proves you had access to private information such as religion, race, sexual orientation, etc., you could be facing a discrimination lawsuit.
- The simple fact that some people resent being exposed to the risk that private information they shared could somehow be distributed in such a way that would create embarrassment or other repercussions.
By now, you might be wondering: What does all of this mean to me, our company, and the company’s HR functions?
The best advice is to be proactive, by checking to see if your house is in order — so you’re not making decisions on the fly as a reaction to problems that might arise.
- If you don’t have a company policy explaining how social media issues will be handled, create one. Now. And make sure everyone knows about it.
- If you do have a policy, review it. Would it stand up to a legal challenge in today’s employment climate?
- Consider refining your policy to further protect your company for costly court battles.
The best advice, say legal pros, is to focus social media inquiry requests on very narrow areas, make sure people know what you’re doing, and why, and to consistently enforce policies.
- explain the steps taken to protect the person’s privacy
- request written consent
- establish and follow a written protocol
- document the steps taken and the findings, and
- make sure managers are clear on the protocol and what happens if it’s compromised.
Not to be left out, politicians are climbing aboard the bandwagon.
Some have urged the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice to take a legal stance on protecting employees from invasion of privacy. There’s also concern that information gained from social media access could damage an employer’s ability to be impartial on matters of race, religion, etc.
Some attempts to legislate employer access to social media information have fizzled out, but the issue is far from dead.