Why You Need a Social Media Policy for Recruitment

Coworkers, following the company's social media policy for recruitment, reviewing candidates on their social apps.

The rise of social media has made it possible for people to find out a lot about each other, sometimes too much. It’s also a great way for recruiters to find qualified candidates. But, if you don’t have a well-devised social media policy for recruitment in place, you could open yourself up to legal claims and other complications.

It’s well known among the recruiting community that a candidate’s online profile can provide insights into their work ethic, character, and integrity, which are all important factors to consider when deciding on job candidates. However, it can be a slippery slope, especially when social media profiles reveal legally protected characteristics such as age, race, and religious affiliation.

Keep useful information from turning into too much information as you source, evaluate, and screen candidates via social media by deploying a written policy and ensuring the entire organization complies.

What is a Social Media Policy for Recruitment?

Many employment law experts recommend establishing a formal policy for using social media as a recruitment tool, which would establish rules for how social media profiles are reviewed and how that information goes into the decision-making process. Typically, such a policy would define both what the employer is and is not looking for when reviewing social media profiles.

Even if gathered inadvertently, information derived from a candidate’s social media profile can put you at risk for a lawsuit down the road. Thus, employers should be aware of learning about a candidate’s protected class information. Federal employment law prohibits employers from basing hiring, firing, and other employment-related decisions on the following protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Military status
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race/color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity

For example, a candidate’s social media presence might reveal information about a disability. Later, if the candidate isn’t hired and claims discrimination based on this disability (either real or perceived), the employer’s best defense is ignorance of the candidate’s protected status at the time the decision was made. However, if you learn of this information while looking at social media, that defense is lost.

Your social media policy for recruitment also should address the types of information that can help inform your hiring decisions, without crossing the line. Some examples of legitimate items to look for may include:

  • Negative postings about past employers
  • Material relating to illicit drug abuse or criminal activity
  • Posts showing a lack of judgment or ethical clarity
  • Discrepancies between social media posts and resumes or other information submitted by applicants
  • Information that illustrates the qualities you are looking for, such as integrity and professionalism

One thing to absolutely avoid is asking candidates for passwords. While it’s just not a good idea to go digging into their profiles yourself, and is not a great start to the employment relationship anyway, many states have passed laws prohibiting employers from requiring applicants to disclose their passwords to social media accounts.

Back Up Your Policy With Clear Procedures

Once you have a social media policy, put it into action by developing a strong process to support it. This might include identifying which social media channels should be checked for legitimate information, and which shouldn’t. For example, some social media sites include work history or project portfolios (LinkedIn, for example, serves as an online resume and referral network), while others are more geared toward sharing photos of friends and family.

If you have adequate staff, consider adding a layer of independent review to help strengthen your candidate review process. This might be someone who is otherwise not involved in the hiring decision who could review social media profiles for items defined in the policy. After reviewing the candidate(s), they can then report back to the decision-maker in writing. This could be part of the overall reference-checking process.

This report could include red flags about behavior or a lack of information that supports the resume. For instance, social media information that directly contradicts what is on the candidate’s resume could be a major red flag (but, since context is everything, you’ll still want to investigate further before making any conclusions). It should most definitely not include any information about protected statuses.

Keep What You Learn in Context

Speaking of context, it’s worth emphasizing that everything you can learn via online profiles is potentially relevant to someone’s suitability for a job opening, but not necessarily. This is why it’s so important to keep what you find in its proper context as you put your social media policy for recruitment to work.

For instance, you may be hiring someone for an important role that requires international travel and the ability to interact with people from various cultures. If a candidate’s social media profile illustrates a genuine interest in (and respect for) other cultures, that information may nudge you to advance their application to the next step. However, disparaging comments made about a particular ethnicity or nationality would probably be a red flag.

Digging a little deeper, though, you want to ensure that any comments or posts attributed to a given candidate actually reflect their views. This can lead you down some rabbit holes, but just be sure you’re not unfairly ruling someone out based on what you see.

In particular, information shared by people other than the candidate may not be the best indicator of what the candidate is like. For instance, something that may be considered a red flag might not be coming from the candidate; it could have been posted on their feed by someone else or they may have even been tagged by someone who doesn’t know them.

Properly Leverage Social Media and More for Your Recruitment Needs

As you can see, drafting a social media policy for recruitment purposes will enable you to leverage this powerful tool without crossing over into dangerous legal territory. Sign up to learn more about this and other crucial recruiting, onboarding, and HR tactics today.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.