There’s been a big brouhaha of late about employers who ask prospective job applicants for passwords to their Facebook account. Apparently, the Maryland Department of Corrections had candidates log in to their profiles and click around while the interviewer watched, a practice called “shoulder surfing.” This practice – which many think is so rare as to be apocryphal – has been widely denounced in all quarters as being everything from a gross invasion of privacy to just plain dumb.
But that is not to say that employers aren’t mining social media to evaluate job candidates, indeed they are. An article by Gloria Goodale in The Christian Science Monitor talks about other perfectly legal ways that employers access social media profiles, making it “not only unnecessary but unwise for companies to ask for social media passwords.”
The article offers this commentary:

“Once you ask for this kind of access, then you are on notice for anything that you might find,” says Todd Taylor, an attorney with Moore & Van Allen who specializes in communication technology. “I would advise against going after information that isn’t already public for the simple reason that if you see something and you don’t act on it, you have the potential issue of a negligent hire down the road.”

But just how are employers actually using Facebook in screening job candidates? In a survey of 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals, nearly 37% of the respondents say they use social networking sites to research and screen job candidates. Another 11% said they plan to start, while 15% said that their company prohibits the practice. The survey on the use of social media in hiring practices was conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.
Of the social sites, Facebook ranked the highest, at 65%, followed closely by LinkedIn at 63%. Twitter came in at 16%, and other sites at 17%. IT was the industry that relied on social networks the most heavily (52%) and healthcare the least heavily (28%).
34% of those surveyed found material that factored into a decision not to hire a candidate.Some of the most common findings that led to such a decision included:

  • Candidate posted provocative/inappropriate photos/info – 49%
  • There was info about candidate drinking or using drugs – 45%
  • Candidate had poor communication skills – 35%
  • Candidate bad mouthed previous employer – 33%
  • Candidate made discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc. – 28%
  • Candidate lied about qualifications – 22%

For some of the potential pitfalls and legal minefields, see our prior post Tips for using Facebook (and other social media) in the hiring process. We also recommend the social media posts from two of our favorite employment law blogs: Ohio Employer’s Law Blog and Connecticut Employment Law Blog


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