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

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

How-Can-Law-Firms-Use-Social-Media-to-Background-Check-CandidatesMany 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.

By | October 3rd, 2017|

About the Author:

For years, Josh has helped lawyers become more organized, productive, and profitable. A trained litigator, Josh came to Smokeball from a large east-coast law firm where his practice focused on franchise, insurance, marine, and general litigation. His work with Smokeball, and his continued passion for what he does each day, is driven by a desire to help lawyers and their staff do better in every way. Knowing well the stress and strain put on today’s legal professional, he regularly focuses on improving work and life in the law. He has traveled the country working with and learning from lawyers and their staff. Josh speaks regularly to bar associations about successful law firm practices and other legal topics. Recent notable engagements have been with the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference. In addition to his work at Smokeball, Josh serves on the Writing Resource Center staff at The John Marshall Law School. Besides legal technology, his research interests include judicial decision-making, jury decision-making and psychology, and legal writing. He has written and overseen research exploring causal effects of sex/gender on federal appellate court decision-making, and assisted with research for a forthcoming textbook on judicial decision-making. Josh holds his J.D., cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Wash. U. Law Review, held the prestigious Thompson Coburn Research Fellowship, served as Research Assistant to then-Vice-Dean (now Chancellor) Andrew D. Martin, and clerked at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and a B.M. in Music Performance with Honors Scholar distinction from the University of Connecticut, making him a Huskies basketball fan through and through. Follow Josh’s activity on LinkedIn, and keep up with new articles on the Smokeball Blog.

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