In recent years employers have relied on information gleaned from the Web as well as job applicants’ social media when making hiring decisions. By accessing information found in social media, employers can gain information about the potential employee they would not volunteer on their job application or could not be asked at the job interview. The issue comes down to do employers have the right to require job applicants to supply employers with their user names and passwords as a requirement to being considered for employment. As with many similar issues, the balance between an employers’ right to know who they are hiring and an applicants’ right to privacy are in question.
On September 27, 2012, California made the call in favor of job applicant’s right to privacy when Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that prohibited employers from requiring or requesting job applicants to disclose a social media user name or password, access their accounts in the presence of the employer, divulging any social media, or retaliating against applicants refusing them access to their social media.
Even under the new California law, employers are within their rights to search the Web for any information about the applicant that would indicate inappropriate behavior that could be a liability or an embarrassment for the company. However, in doing this type of research, employers may find they have access to restricted information (race, age, religion) that could expose them to potential liability. If an employer turns down an applicant after accessing certain on-line information, they may be put in a position to defend themselves and prove their decision not to hire an applicant had nothing to do with the employer reviewing prohibited information.
In order to reduce the chance of employment litigation, some firms use third party social media screening services. These services search the web for relevant information about an applicant and only pass legally acceptable data to the employer. For many organizations this type of service is a good balance between limiting litigation risk and accessing all legal information about job applicants in order to make optimal hiring decisions.