Employers warned over employee Facebook checks

HR experts say employers must ensure they don’t discriminate against job candidates based on personal online content, after a survey revealed more than a third of employers check potential candidates’ Facebook profiles before offering them the job.


Recruitment firm Robert Half International recently surveyed 416 finance and accounting professionals and hiring managers, with 36% of employers admitting to checking potential candidates’ Facebook profiles prior to employing them.


Robert Half director Andrew Brushfield says the reality is that candidates need to be aware of their social media “footprint” when applying for positions.


“As a general rule of thumb, if there is anything online that employees don’t want their colleagues or bosses to see, they should remove it,” he says.


Brushfield doesn’t believe employers run the risk of “overstepping the line” because it is not illegal for them to check the Facebook profiles of potential candidates.


“That statistic is only going to get bigger. Social networking is far more prevalent among Generation Y than it is among Generation X or the Baby Boomers and, as they become the employers, they will use these tools more and more,” he says.


“In our business for example, we get on LinkedIn and do background checks, and Google searches and things like that.”


Brushfield says employers need to make an assessment about the online content they come across during the recruitment process.


“It depends on the position the candidate is applying for, the environment they’ll be working in, and the severity of what you’re seeing [online],” he says.


“In my opinion, photos and videos of a potential employee having a beer in a social environment is not a big issue. But if they’re seen to be doing something untoward or illegal, that should be a real flag.”


The survey reveals that 36% of employees say the use of social networking sites has had a negative impact on other people’s workplace relationships.


“While social media has helped foster a more interactive and sociable working environment, it is completely blurring the boundary between people’s personal and professional lives,” Brushfield says.


However, Brushfield doesn’t disagree with employees being Facebook “friends” with their staff, claiming this can often help to create a desirable work culture.


“I think it’s fine assuming that the content is fine. People spend so much time at work that it’s only natural they will develop friendships with their colleagues,” he says.


According to the survey, only 38% of respondents say their company has a clear social media policy in place for employees.


By comparison, 43% of companies that do allow their staff to access social media sites at work either don’t have a clear social media policy in place or don’t have a policy at all.


Rather than policing staff about the use of social media in the workplace, Brushfield says employers should discuss the issue openly.


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