Facebook and Google in Reference Checks – What Employers Use to Research You

Increasingly employers admit to using social networking sites and search engines as tools in conducting reference checks in the employment process. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and search engines like Yahoo and Google have become very popular for employers to search and screen applicants.Business Justification.Why would employers bother using Google and Facebook to research potential applicants? Is it simply curiosity or is there real business justification? Many studies confirm the costs associated with the bad hiring decision. The cost of a turnover is estimated at twice the annual salary for particular position. The cost of a bad hire that stays with a company is even greater.Companies also have an interest to limit “potential liability” associated with a poor hire. For example, hiring someone who runs a website espousing racist views or illegal activities can represent a huge potential liability to any company. So there are many reasons why a company may choose these avenues to research a potential candidate or conduct a reference check.ApplicantsWith the ever increasing popularity of social networking sites and the omnipotent search engines like Google, personal information has never been easier to obtain. Recently, Facebook has opened up it’s site to search engines like Yahoo and Google. Despite the legal or moral concerns job seekers may have with employers using Google or Facebook to view their personal information and conduct employment reference checks, it would probably be wise for job seekers to be careful of what they post on the web.EmployersRegardless of technology, established employment law still applies. In many countries, there is specific legislation against discriminatory hiring practices. In Canada, the Human Rights Act protects individuals from discriminatory hiring practices on the basis of religion, race, gender, marital status, disability, and the so on. It is advisable for employers to be familiar with legislation and concepts like BFOR’s etc. For example, a company should not bypass an applicant, because the search engine results reveal that this applicant has a religious website. If employers are considering incorporating the use of search engines and social network sites in their screening and selection process, then be consistent in application while abiding by all established employment law. Consistency means that all applicants go through the same hiring process, that your policies should be applied consistently. For example if your company conducts criminal background checks as a condition of employment, then it should complete this step for all applicants not select ones because they look like a criminal. If employers have any concerns regarding their hiring policy it would be prudent to contact their Human Resources professional or labour lawyer.Lastly, as mentioned above, the business decision to employ search engines and networking sites to research potential employees is driven primarily by cost avoidance. That is employers are motivated to avoid the potential cost and liabilities of a poor hire. In this same logic, it would then also be important for employers to consider the impact on public perception and employee engagement in employing such policies. Since if employees and job seekers view using search engines and networking sites to research applicants as distasteful, then by doing so the employer would have defeated the purpose of the exercise.

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