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How Can Law Firms Use Social Media to Background Check Candidates?

Noel Peel

Written by

Noel Peel


December 28, 2017


Many law firms are looking at the online social media profiles of candidates as part of their background check. But if this process isn’t done correctly and according to the law, hiring managers could be putting themselves at risk for a lawsuit. To incorporate social media checks into your hiring process, you’ll need to follow some best practices.

Check the Laws

Every state has different laws that regulate what an employer can do in regard to a candidate’s social media. Since social media is still fairly new, the rules are still getting sorted out. But generally speaking there are a few things you should stay away from if you’re perusing a candidate’s social media profiles when making a decision about hiring:

  • Never ask for passwords. It’s pretty clear that asking for passwords is a clear boundary violation. And in most states not only are employer prohibited from asking candidates for their social media passwords, they are also prohibited from requesting passwords from their employees. But even if a candidate offered you access to their private/walled social media account, it’s probably not a good idea to go looking at something that is not already public.
  • Don’t play favorites. If you have a policy of checking social media postings as part of your hiring process, it needs to be a policy that applies to everyone.  You can’t search the social media posts of some candidates and not others. If you play favorites in your hiring process, you could be risking a bias lawsuit.
  • Don’t exclude qualified candidates. Many people post things on their social media accounts that they may not reveal in an interview, and knowing some of that information could make you appear as if you’re biased if you don’t hire them. While it’s not illegal for you to know information about a candidate’s protected class status (race, age, disability, etc.) it is illegal to use that information as a basis for not hiring them despite their qualifications.

Create A Process

If you want to avoid the appearance of bias and reduce the chances of litigation related to your hiring practices, you must create a social media background check policy that is fair and consistent. Work with your H.R. person to develop a policy that can be applied to all candidates who apply to your law firm’s open positions. Here are a few things you should consider when creating a policy for social media background checks:

  • Create a step-by-step process. Decide exactly what you will check and how you will check it. For example, your process may say to do an overall web search, then Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linked In. Once you setup that process, don’t deviate from it. Check the same thing for all candidates.
  • Designate one person. Get one person to handle all the social media background checks so that your process is more likely to be consistently followed.
  • Keep track of what you find. If you do find something that is questionable enough that it will impact your hiring decision, make a record of your findings just in case the candidate later deletes the information.
  • Research after interview. Conduct your social media background checks AFTER you’ve interviewed the candidate. Don’t use social media searches when determining who to interview for a job. Because you may uncover information about a candidate’s protected class status researching their social media posts then deciding to not interview could make it appear that bias influenced your decision.

Why Should Law Firms Use Social Media?

A good social media background check can help you identify candidate red flags but you’ll need a social media research process that is fair and reasonable.

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