Tuesday, March 27, 2012

HR & That Social Stuff

Recently there have been a bit of a storm about employers either asking for Facebook passwords or demanding that job applicants sign into their accounts while the interviewer looks over their shoulder to read their content or that they ‘friend’ a person in the organization thus giving access.

It should not be news to any HR practitioner that this practice is unacceptable and raises serious concerns about hiring practices in general. There is some consensus that this is not something that is widespread but there is little in the way of gathered data to know one way or another. It is possible that it occurs more often than one might think or less often that the media storm suggests. We just don’t know. It is, however, worth discussion and that this is taking place is a good thing. What has been highlighted is how little understanding there is among the general population about social media, hiring practices, employment law, privacy legislation, human rights and ethical norms.

The use of social network products has become widespread especially since mobile devices have become much more user friendly and allow simple everyday actions to be photographed, tweeted, posted on a social network and thus shared across a much broader range of people than ever before. This has put some pressure on the lines of privacy that were previously considered cultural norms, resulting in a flurry of activity in updating privacy legislation in many countries and creating discussions about appropriate behaviour from many angles.

In hiring practices the general principle is that people being considered for employment are assessed based on their ability to perform the requirements of the position. In some roles that also includes considerable intrusion into a person’s character and behaviours in addition to evaluating their technical abilities. For example, in roles that include access to financial data or accounts a credit check may be required, in some jobs a criminal record check may be required. These reports are acquired from a third party, financial rating organization or a police department and only include relevant information. However, social media products have opened a door to access to information about candidates that would not have been available previously unless you have private detectives following people about or interviewing their friends, family and neighbours.

Smart employers will have a third party conduct a social media review and that third party will only pass on information that is applicable to the position being hired for as defined by the employment laws and human rights acts. To do otherwise not only opens an employer up to legal actions or human rights complaints but it can lead to a backlash via that very same social media if an applicant believes they have been unfairly eliminated from a job competition based on information that does not relate to the role they applied for.

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