Pre-Employment Screening on the Internet

What if you could almost instantly find out if a job applicant is a bad fit for your organization?

Social networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace offer a peak at an applicant’s personality. Before you start using these sites as tools to make employment choices, however, there are some things to consider. First of all, don’t rely too much on the information you discover online. Ask yourself if the information is trustworthy. The applicant could be trying to be humorous, not thinking that an employer would look at a MySpace page. And remember, the profile you’re looking at could be someone else with the same name—or a fake set up to sabotage the applicant.

Second, you should be aware that using these sites may become evidence in a discrimination suit, if the profile reveals information that can’t be used in a hiring decision and you don’t hire that applicant. It can be difficult to defend against such charges if individuals from specific groups are not interviewed, hired, or are the only ones to have their sites checked.

Many applicants consider their work life and personal life separate and believe employers shouldn’t look at their online profile. But no law or court says that applicants have a reasonable expectation of privacy about information voluntarily disclosed and in the public domain. Laws can change, but many employers are not searching such sites because the information found there is usually not job-related and may provoke a lawsuit.

While such suits are not widespread now, there are attorneys who are eager to pursue these cases, so you should realize a seemingly innocuous search may lead to a lawsuit.

Karen Harned Executive Director, Small Business Legal Center National Federation of Independent Business Washington, D.C.

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