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What are the risks when recruiting via social media?

What are the risks when recruiting via social media?

Just what are the risks when recruiting via social media? ACAS now estimate that up to 25% of employers use social media as part of their recruitment process to vet job applicants. By taking a closer look at social media as a recruitment tool in general, are you aware of the legal implications for employers?

The massive growth in popularity of social media can't be overstated. It's perhaps not surprising that employers are tempted to view the online profiles of job applicants. There are, however, risks for employers who use websites such as Facebook and Twitter when making decisions on who to hire for a particular job.

Given the types of information typically found on blogs or social networking sites, a claim for discrimination is a real prospect if the information is then used to reject a candidate. For example, while a job applicant's ethnic origin or sexual orientation do not feature on a CV, employers can easily gain access to that type of information via the internet. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that a job applicant who finds out the real reason he or she has been rejected is in fact the content of their Facebook page, could mount a successful claim for discrimination.

If an employer is planning to use social media as a vetting tool, then it's sensible to tell candidates about this and employers should ensure the nature of any enquiries made via the Internet is reasonable.

It's also important that employers ensure that any data/information obtained is processed fairly and lawfully in accordance with the principles laid down in the Data Protection Act 1998. Although the Information Commissioner's Office hasn't issued specific guidance on the use of on-line profiles in relation to recruitment, as soon as an employer consults on-line profiles to gather information about candidates, it processes the information and then becomes subject to the controls laid down in the Act.

We suggest that employers use the following basic checklist as a guide:-

  1. Avoid making employment decisions based in any way on a protected characteristic such as race, religion or sexual orientation which may be revealed through social media.
  2. Ensure any data is obtained and processed fairly and lawfully in accordance with the principles laid down in the Data Protection Act 1998.
  3. Make employment decisions using reliable and accurate information, and be aware that information posted on social media sites may be false or misleading.

While it may be very tempting for employers to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to have a 'sneaky' dig around at applicants on-line profiles, the risk in doing so, apart from discrimination claims, is making judgements about employability on the basis of comments or status updates which could be inaccurate or misleading.

Employers should be wary about using social media at all, and if they decide to do so, ensure that the benefits to the organisation outweigh the risks.

If you'd like to discuss your current recruitment procedures in more detail or would like information on employment law please get in touch.


Written by : Marianne McJannett