Social networking sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, have given employers access to more information about job candidates than ever before. This can be extremely useful, especially for small businesses without a fully-staffed HR department to screen candidates. It’s not always clear, however, what you can legally do with that information once you find it.
Let’s start with the easy part: if you Google a job candidate or find them on a social network site, you can look at the information posted there. Public profiles are fair game and, if used correctly, can provide valuable insight into the candidate. For example, a candidate may have many LinkedIn contacts in your industry or link to relevant articles on Facebook.
The potential danger for employers is that social network sites also contain information that, legally, you can’t use to make a hiring decision. Wisconsin prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants for a variety of reasons, including race, sex, age, religion, family status, arrest record, and disability (just to name a few). That means you can’t directly ask a candidate about these and, if you find them in an online search, you can’t take them into account.
Fortunately, there’s a relatively simple way to protect yourself as an employer. If possible, separate your social network search from the hiring decision. Have your assistant or another employee search for the candidate, then have that employee give you only the information you can legally use. Not only do you remove the temptation to use protected information, but you give yourself a defense in case a candidate does sue.
Social networks give you a lot of information on a candidate, including some that’s protected by law. Being careful with the information you find can help you make the right hiring decision while protecting your business.