Recruiters, Talk To Lawyers Before Looking On Facebook

Employers looking to research prospective hires on Facebook better consult with an attorney first.

Employers looking to research prospective hires on Facebook better consult with an attorney first.

That wise advice comes from Fortune‘s career advice column, “Ask Annie.” The columnist shrewdly says that looking up job candidates’ profiles on Facebook has several legal risks — these issues prompt many employers to hire third-party recruitment firms.

Employment attorneys recommend that a hiring manager or recruiter notify job candidates before looking them up on Facebook. Of course, that can give people the opportunity to clean up their profiles ahead of time, which might the whole exercise less effective.

However, one could view this as testing potential recruits’ savviness about professionalism, or possible lack thereof. If anything unprofessional remains visible on candidates’ profiles after they learned that a particular recruiter was going to look them up, that might say something about them.

Additional legal advice includes only looking for information online that has relevance to the job in question. That could assuage any concerns that jobseekers might have about whether Facebook posts could interfere with their employability, but then again, the issue of professionalism relates to many jobs and a wide variety of content online.

Similarly, some information that appears on a candidate’s Facebook profile can’t factor into job interviews; for instance, employers can’t ask a woman whether she’s expecting a child even it says so online (but an expectant mother would be wise to hide that with the use of the privacy settings). Employment attorneys have a much more detailed grasp of what kinds of questions are fair game during the recruitment process.

Obviously, consulting an attorney could increase the cost of hiring people, but most human resources types are probably used to that given the rate at which employees sue employers. This contributes to the long list of reasons why many companies have full-time, inhouse lawyers on their payrolls — making it easy to find good advice about whether and how to research candidates on Facebook.

Readers, what do you think of the advice presented here?