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Beware legal claims when checking out staff on social media, SMEs warned

Oliver Milman /

Small businesses have been warned they are risking potential lawsuits by placing too much emphasis on information they find out about employees’ private lives on social media, as new figures reveal the widespread checking of online profiles by employers.

A survey of SMEs by workplace advice firm Employsure found that 54% of employers have screened potential employees by searching for them on social networking websites.

A further 44% of businesses have looked on an employees’ Facebook or Twitter profile to check that a sickness claim is authentic.

The figures underline that social media has become a key tool for SMEs looking to identify potential recruits and check on their skills and experience.

However, Employsure warns that while businesses are entitled to do this with publicly-available information, there is a risk that they make unnecessarily discriminatory judgements based on what they see.

“They might, for example, see a candidate’s age through a social media site and decide not to employ on that basis, leaving them exposed to an age discrimination claim,” says Edward Mallett, managing director of Employsure.

“While reviewing someone’s online profile is not technically unlawful there are both advantages and dangers in screening candidates by use of information that they have not provided to you.”

“Screening becomes a more complex issue when employers start checking employee’s personal profiles and looking at information that is not connected with their ability to carry out the work itself.”

“Personality and professionalism are issues that companies want to consider and there is the temptation to see someone’s personal online profile as giving a window into what they are truly like compared to how they present themselves at interview and on paper.”

“However, companies need to be very careful not to cross the line and appear to take into account inappropriate information.”

Mallett adds that even professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, can “trap the unwary”, citing the case of a UK firm that faced a compensation claim from an employee who was dismissed for saying that he was “interested in new job opportunities” on his LinkedIn page.

This article first appeared on StartupSmart.

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