What’s wrong with using information from Facebook, MySpace, Friendster or personal Web sites for hiring decisions?

Some companies believe this is a cheap way to obtain information about an applicant. Unfortunately for the applicant, this type of background check is not covered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) if it is performed by the employer. And since the sites are not mandated to investigate and correct errors, the employer may miss out on hiring a qualified candidate. Additionally, much of the information posted on these sites cannot be discussed in an interview, and if not handled properly, the employer may be sued for claims under various anti-discrimination statutes, ADA, privacy laws, and state “off-duty” conduct statutes. Employers who use third-parties to conduct background investigations by searching social Web sites and Internet postings must comply with the FCRA, and thus explicitly state in the background check authorization that social networking and/or other such sites will be accessed. The FCRA does not prohibit employers from obtaining consumer reports that contain information compiled from Internet sites; however, employers are required to disclose to the applicant that the information was the basis of an adverse employment decision (Id. § 1681b(b)(3)(B)(i)(I).

Despite the liability exposure and unreliability of the information, various surveys show that employers do use information from social networking sites and blogs to support their decision to hire or disqualify an applicant. The most common causes for disqualification include:

  • Information or photographs about drinking or using drugs
  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs or information
  • Poor communication skills evident in postings
  • Bad-mouthing previous employer or fellow employee
  • Misrepresentation of qualifications
  • Discriminatory remarks related to race, gender, religion, etc.
  • Unprofessional or provocative screen name
  • Indications of criminal behavior
  • Posted confidential information from previous employers