Entering the world of work for the first time is a daunting prospect, and parents of seventeen year-olds who are currently looking for work, may sympathise with Paris Brown, Britain’s first Youth Police Commissioner (YPC),who fell at the first hurdle after her online Twitter account was scrutinised by the media. Ms Brown came under fire after a series of offensive Tweets, written when she was between the age of fourteen and sixteen, referred to immigrants as “illegals” and travellers as “pikeys” and made reference to drugs, drinking and sex. Not great, given that she was put into her role to act on the behalf of all teenagers and bridge the gap between young people and the police. After the barrage of press abuse, she resigned after less than a week in her role.
Social media is so prevalent in all of our lives that an increasing number of employers now use it as a data gathering tool in recruitment. Being young and naïve, Ms Brown obviously didn’t realise this at the time of tweeting, or I’m sure she wouldn’t have posted the things that she did. But she’s not alone; only 15% of people actually believe that employers engage in social media checks during recruitment.
Although she got away with it at the recruitment stage, Ms Brown’s comments have come back to bite her on the nose. Not even her tearful apology on national television would have persuaded some employers into feeling sorry for her, and many will have been shaking their heads in disbelief at the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, after they admitted that they did not vet her tweets prior to offering her the role.
Many people now (young and old) have an online profile on at least one social media account; whether that’s Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. The sad thing is, many people are simply not net-savvy and can’t resist hurling abuse at their employer online or expressing remarks that are bound to land them in trouble. The case of Ms Brown illustrates the problems that can arise with young people and social media. Many simply do not realise that their posts aren’t private and that they can be accessed by more or less anyone, from anywhere in the world. That includes employers. Schools spend a lot of time lecturing students on the importance of a good CV and first impressions, but what about what the internet is saying?
Employee screening on social networking sites is not unlawful. It’s in the public domain and as the cost of hiring the wrong person can be expensive, employers often cross-check the information on a CV against information made freely available by the candidate online.
But employers who do this should take care. It’s very likely that you will uncover information which relates to the protected characteristics of an individual (religious beliefs, age, gender, disability, pregnancy, maternity, sexual orientation etc) which could make you liable to a discrimination claim if you reject somebody who is a good match for the role and you can’t prove that it wasn’t for a discriminatory reason.
If you’re going through the process of recruitment at the moment, make sure that you adopt a process which ensures that you make an objective assessment of a candidate’s ability to do the job. If carrying out background checks on social media sites, you should:
- avoid sharing personal information obtained about candidates with those responsible for shortlisting and making the final decision;
- verify any information which may lead to an offer being withdrawn; and
- carry out internet-based checks after the decision to make an offer of employment has been made.
Under the Data Protection Act, you don’t necessarily need the agreement of the candidate before beginning your social media checks. However, it is advisable to get explicit and informed consent as it offers you a further layer of protection and gives you the opportunity to demonstrate that you are being fair and proportionate.
In the meantime, it might be worth looking at your own digital profile. If you have accounts on more than one platform then the chances of you forgetting about an offensive post you wrote a few years ago is greatly increased. If we only take one thing from the case of Ms Brown, it is that consistency is key. There’s no point in appearing to be perfectly diplomatic at an interview when digitally your profiles say the exact opposite. Similarly, what’s the point in going to the effort of creating an impressive and professional profile on LinkedIn if you use your Twitter account as a platform to express your anger in inappropriate terms? The reality is you won’t last long anywhere.
Russell HR Consulting, the SP-Index and ACS Recruitment have teamed up to offer an inclusive seminar on the impact of social media on recruitment which will arm you with the knowledge to use social media legally and appropriately. The event will be held this Friday in Milton Keynes, so if you would like to book your free place, please do so asap, as spaces are limited.
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