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Social media profiles under scrutiny

5th January 2014

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The Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) has produced a guide to what constitutes good practice for employers conducting pre-employment checks on job applicants.

While it goes beyond simple online research into a candidate's background, it does look into how far employers should actually go in using social media checks in support of the recruitment process. It is a growing issue: recent research conducted by the CIPD showed that two out of five employers look at job applicants' online activity or profiles on sites such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn at the recruitment stage.

In a recent separate survey by Acas, 45% of those involved in hiring staff said they were already using social media tools in recruitment, including screening candidates by viewing their profiles, and around 40% said they would make greater use of them in the future.

Vetting a candidate's online activity is not unlawful, but employers need to be careful they are not basing recruitment decisions on discriminatory factors – for example, age, race, sex, religion, sexual orientation and political beliefs. The law on discrimination applies equally to online as well as offline vetting.

The CIPD's guide addresses this and other issues that recruiters need to consider. It says they should consider applying a set of principles if they wish to access a candidate's social media profile. These include:

• distinguishing between private and professional social media – so LinkedIn is legitimate, but a private Facebook is not.

• not discriminating online in the same way they wouldn't offline.

• a candidates' profile should not be used for a "trawling exercise", as opposed to a search for specific information directly relevant to the job.

• a candidate should be informed at the outset if online sources may be used to collect information about them.

• an opportunity should be provided to the applicant to respond to material findings if their online profile has formed part of the decision process.

• employers should develop a clear policy towards the use of social media in recruitment.

It will, of course, be difficult to prove discrimination by a recruiter making remote and subjective decisions based on your profile. But it would be a start to at least know they are looking at your photos or comments on your online profiles.

You have right to protect the processing of your personal information under the Data Protection Act, but it is unlikely an employer viewing a personal social media site without printing it off or forwarding it to anyone would be caught by it. You may also find it difficult to justify privacy where you upload material to the "non-private" sections of Twitter or Facebook.

The right of privacy as it applies to social media is a developing area of law. The guide from the CIPD aims to address some of the issues, but it remains just that – a guide. Whether specific regulations are introduced is yet to be seen. In the meantime, you may wish to review your public social media profile.

Do you agree that employers should use your social media profile as part of their screening process? Would you take steps to modify your profile knowing it may form part of a search?

Source: The Guardian. Published: 11th December 2013.


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