Using Social Media for Criminal Background Checks During the Hiring Process

Social Media for Criminal BackgroundIn a 2012 research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, two-thirds (69%) of the 406 organizations surveyed reported that they perform criminal background checks on all job candidates. With the rise of social networking platforms, especially LinkedIn, many companies have started to use social media searches for pre-employment screening or background checks. However, since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions” in 2012, criminal background checks on job candidates have become very complex. As the new guidelines say, using a criminal record to deny employment may be equal to the discrimination based on race or national origin, and it requires a high level of care to ensure that the conviction data considered during the screening process is accurate and relevant.

Employers Reluctant to Use Social Network for Background Screening

The following studies give us the insight that the hesitancy to use social sites as a part of the pre-employment screening has increased even though at a slighter rate.

  • A 2012 survey of 2,303 hiring managers by CareerBuilder, a leading online employment website in the U.S. revealed that around 37% of companies use social networking sites as a screening tool for potential job candidates, a considerable drop from 45% in 2009.
  • Though HireRight’s 2013 Employment Screening Benchmarking Report showed 61% of employers use or plan to use social networking sites for recruiting job candidates, the report said only 21% use or plan to use the same for background checks, which is slightly down from 24% in 2012.

According to industry experts, the major challenge hiring managers and screeners face as they gather information from online social networks is that such kind of information may only have a marginal relationship, if any, to a job position’s actual duties. Another problem is that the economically disadvantaged are underrepresented on social media networks, which may seriously affect unbiased candidate search. HireRight cites several reasons why employers hesitate to use social sites for background screening process such as:

  • Lack of an established legal guidance
  • Candidates’ privacy concerns
  • Only a vague idea about the best practices of using social sites for the screening process

Social Media Background Screening – Best Practices

HireRight recommends that organizations can adopt the following best practices if they are already using or planning to use social networking sites for background checks.

  • Be Aware of the Potential Risks – When a hiring manager checks the social media profile of a candidate and the profile indicates that the person is part of a protected class (for example, age, gender, ethnicity), then it may be exposed to the risk of hiring discrimination if it does not make an offer. Since majority of hiring managers can access social networking sites easily and most of the web browsers can collect and store viewing history, background screening risks associated with these sites are compounded. The organizations should educate their Human Resources (HR) personnel about the potential risks of background screening using social sites and limit their use of social network in their screening process. A legal counsel can help you assess and mitigate your organization’s risks. You can consider on-site privacy policies of social sites (for example, Facebook, Twitter) in your risk mitigation approach.
  • Written Employment Screening Policy – The organization should develop a written employment screening policy that outlines background screening practices. This will provide guidance to HR personnel who conduct background checks. According to HireRight, 76% of employers who use social network during background checks do not possess a defined policy regarding the screening process. Lack of a proper social network-based background screening policy would cause liability risks (for example, discrimination lawsuits) for an organization. However, if the hiring managers fail to address social network-based background screening, it also means they may be using some subjective information culled online to curtail their hiring options inappropriately.
  • Stay Up-to-date with Legal and Legislative Developments – Several federal laws already exist to protect workers from discrimination and privacy violations related to social network such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Stored Communications Act. Certain states have implemented legislation that prevents employers from accessing the private accounts of workers. Since the legal precedent is evolving in this arena, the employers should stay tuned to the future developments with the help of a legal counsel.

HireRight noted in its survey that though employers today need to leverage social network for identifying and recruiting future workers, they are quite apprehensive regarding its role in background screening.