Photo by Alan Cleaver

Hiring Managers often scour the web to find more information about candidates to make sure they are hiring the right person, relying on publicly available information to aid in making hiring decisions for prospective employees.

However some organizations may need to reconsider such policies, or build new guidance, because the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) of Alberta has recently issued guidelines for “Social Media Background Checks” to act as guidance to organizations thus ensuring they are on the right side of law when collecting information via social media.

The guidelines note that reasonableness, relevancy, inadvertent over collection, inadvertent collection of third-party information, accuracy are some of the things organizations need to consider before conducting social media checks on current and prospective employees.

The guidelines further note that obtaining consent also presents significant challenges. PIPA permits an individual to withdraw consent and in such circumstances, the organization can’t use that personal information to make a decision pertaining to the employee. Organizations also need to pass the reasonableness test even when consent has been collected.

Organizations are also liable to honour requests for access to information collected and used to make a decision about an employee. This gains significant importance because under PIPA, viewing personal information may also be a form of collection.

Personal information like race, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation that are off-limits in the hiring process can inadvertently be viewed (collected) by doing a social media check and can subconsciously bias an employer’s opinion.

The guidelines caution organizations not to attempt avoiding privacy obligations by contracting a third-party to carry out such background checks.

However the regulations on this seem to be a little different in the US…

In May 2011, the FTC had given approval to a company called Social Intelligence Corp. to run social media background checks on potential employees. The FTC also noted such organizations need to make sure accuracy of findings and are obligated employers to provide notice of any adverse hiring action taken on basis of these reports.

Social Intelligence typically does a seven year search of social media history looking for positive – volunteer efforts, participation in industry forums and negative – racist remarks, nude pictures, drug use, violent acts examples.

My opinion is that the more of my time I spend online, the more and more information I build up publicly that can be interpreted in a positive or negative way. It is important for individuals to exercise caution and control over information they are sharing publicly. Having said that, something that was posted online say five years ago may have little or no reflection of one’s character now.

Will Social Media continue to be a factor in your future hiring decision?