The use of social media in pre-employment screening

Many individuals now have an online profile and it is tempting to carry out online and social media searches. However, this approach can be highly problematic. Departments are advised against using social media or other online searches for the purpose of screening candidates.

Some specific posts may warrant online searches, such as where the employee will be a spokesperson for the University, or for posts with significant public exposure, representing the University in an official capacity. In any such cases departments should contact the OUSS Vetting and Screening Administration team, who are able to offer a service as part of their University Enhanced Level Screening, which involves thorough online searches. The OUSS Vetting and Screening Administration team are able to verify their findings to ensure these are accurate and relate to the correct individual, and ensure appropriate consent is given by the candidate.

Any pre-employment screening must be done with caution, so that recruiting managers do not inadvertently act in a manner that could be considered discriminatory, or unfair in other ways.

In common with other paperwork associated with the recruitment process, any personal data gathered during the recruitment/screening process should be handled and retained in accordance with the University’s guidance on record-keeping. Further details can be found here.

Departments should be mindful of the following advice:

  • in relation to discrimination, the same restrictions apply to online checks as they do to all other aspects of the recruitment process;
  • personal data should only be accessed  if it is relevant to suitability for the role and relates to candidates’ personal capabilities, skills, education and experience;
  • only the absolutely necessary personal information (no more than is needed), and information that is relevant to the job and is not excessive should be collected;
  • social media searches should not be used as a general trawling exercise;
  • reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the accuracy of any personal details accessed online;
  • a distinction should be drawn between the use of social media for mainly private purposes and for mainly professional purposes, e.g. viewing a LinkedIn account may be legitimate, since this is an individual’s professional profile, but Facebook, which is primarily a social site, should not be viewed;
  • information that is in the public domain regarding someone’s professional profile (for example through publically published sites, for example other employers, HEIs or professional bodies) can be used;
  • before online searches are conducted, applicants should be advised that information about them might be gathered in this way;
  • applicants should be given an opportunity to respond to any adverse findings from online searches, where they may be considered in the decision-making process.