Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Recruiters should be careful with background checks, both with search engines and with data brokers


Workface Management has an article playing healthful devil’s advocate with the practice of recruiters and employers checking applicants’ social networking sites or other web activity as part of “background information.” The article is by Fay Hansen, the long title is “Discriminatory Twist in Networking Sites Puts Recruiters in Peril: Sourcing applicants from Twitter or LinkedIn or screening candidates through Facebook or MySpace may open employers to discrimination charges. The link is here.

Recruiters or HR departments might find and “use” information that could not be used in a properly designed application or interview. That would include race, religion, political views, and (for many states and for most sense of fair play) sexual orientation and even gender identity.

This is particularly an issue for recruiters looking for people to fill federal contracts. There is an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (link). Recruiters will need an audit trail of where they got background information on candidates, and the discovery trails need to be more substantial than caches or cookies for search engine results or social networking site profiles.

One interesting point is that these concerns run counter to a practical reality: clients are very likely to lookup individual consultants or sales agents on search engines, and make decisions about doing business with the company, whether "morally right" or not.

Another interesting statistic: Only 5% of LinkedIn users are African-American and only 2% are (non-European) Hispanics.

All of this flies in the face of mainstream media advice that job applicants need to watch their social networking profiles and expect that employers will have at them.

CNN’s Gerri Willis did a story today (on CNN American Morning Tuesday Sept. 29) about background investigations for applicants with data brokers like ChoicePoint. A woman told of a job offer rescinding after ChoicePoint delivered a derogatory report on the wrong person (the person eventually got the job after a Congressman got involved). Also data brokers keep records of arrests that don’t result in convictions or that are adjudicated out of court. Consumers, after job denial, have a right to request a report from ChoicePoint much as they would from credit reporting companies. Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced legislation to make data broker companies more accountable.

Here’s an older column “Advice for Choice Point Victims” from CNN, from 2005 (link).

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