Is Conducting Social Media Employment Checks Legal?

Social media checks can unveil so much about a person’s life and personality beyond their CV. Even a brief glance at a prospective employee’s social media profile(s) can tell an employer everything they need to know. In some cases, an organisation can verify a candidate’s age, gender, race, current employer, marital status, education and employment status by checking a candidate’s social media accounts.

Of course, this depends on how easily the candidate is willing to disclose these characteristics publicly on social networks. It’s also important to note that some of this information is protected by GDPR and privacy laws, therefore making it unusable when HR teams and managers make hiring decisions.

This leads many to question whether a social media background check would be exempt from a pre-employment background screening program. Many are under the impression that social media screening is unethical and illegal. Thus, we have provided an up-to-date guide to address any concerns you as a hiring organisation may have.

What is Social Media Employment Screening?

A social media check involves searching social media platforms to validate details they have given supporting a job application. Employers conduct these background checks for peace of mind about their new hires. 

Vetting a social media profile can provide helpful information about candidates, in certain instances showing evidence of behaviour that is:

  • Unlawful
  • Violent
  • Aggressive
  • Sexist
  • Racist
  • Abusive

During a job interview, it’s unlikely a candidate would incriminate themselves and admit they actively participate in - or support activities that constitute - the above behaviour.

Risks of Social Media Checks

Organisations rely heavily on social media searches given how practical and effective they are at ensuring candidates are good fits for their company.

However, conducting social media background checks is not without risk. Some characteristics are protected by privacy and data protection legislation and therefore cannot be used in recruitment decisions.

The Data Protection Act 1998 states that personal information shall be:

  • Processed lawfully and fairly
  • Obtained for one or more specified and lawful purposes only
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive

Not complying with UK data protection laws could open up problems for hiring organisations, not just for data processing but also obtaining and keeping information about workers, record retention and disclosure. 

Other social media check risks include making recruitment decisions based on protected characteristics, which may not be compliant with the Equality Act 2010. This is why HR managers shouldn’t exclusively rely on social media information when shortlisting candidates.

Is Social Media Screening Legal?

Yes, social media checks are legal, provided they are conducted lawfully and correctly.

Hiring managers can stumble upon protected characteristics and information if they conduct a social media screening check themselves. 

Protected class information typically includes a candidate’s:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Skin colour
  • Race
  • Sexual orientation
  • Citizenship

If you’re conducting a social media search yourself and you come across the above information, you cannot use it as a basis for making your hiring decision.

This is why we recommend using a third party background check agency like Eurocom CI. In every social media check, we ensure protected class information is filtered. It’s customary for us to do this whenever doing any type of background check, be it criminal record checks, FCA checks, BPSS checks and so on. 

In short, a compliant social media background check is legal.

Factors to Consider with Social Media Background Checks

Provided they are conducted lawfully, ideally via a third party background check company, social media checks wouldn’t prove problematic for a hiring organisation. That said, there are some important factors to consider, alongside what’s already been mentioned.

Negligent hiring

Employers have a duty of care to ensure a reasonable selection of employees. Failing to do this could result in an employer being held liable for negligent hiring, mainly if such an employee causes physical harm to another employee in the workplace.

Accuracy

Social media information is easy to manipulate and spoof, so employers need to ensure they look at accurate and correct information.

Ethics and culture

Employers should take the organisation’s culture into account and ensure they’re hiring the right type of candidate. Potential candidates could view social media screening negatively if they don’t have due process or procedural guidelines to abide by. Strong opinions and a propensity to post selfies could be seen as unfavourable by one company and positive by another, therefore transparency is critical.

Employment Background Checks from Eurocom CI

If you’re in a position to hire a third party background check provider with a proven track record conducting a wide range of pre-employment checks, speak to Eurocom CI today.