Social Media and Employers – policy, privacy and the blurred ethical lines.

With social media playing an ever-increasing role in society, what are the ethics surrounding using social media to vet potential hires?

Most companies will now have a robust social media policy, something which plays a vital part in protecting employers against the foibles of their employee’s online presence. A recent employment tribunal regarding an unfair dismissal appeal was made by an employee who was fired after posting offensive comments on Facebook early on in their employment. The employer argued that it was fair to dismiss this person, despite the fact that he posted the comments in 2013.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal found in favour of the employer. This was in no small part because the Company had a social media policy defining such a breach as gross misconduct, regardless that the comments were made two years earlier.

This is all well and good when someone starts working for you but what about when you are looking to hire? It is now estimated that nearly half of employers will do a basic online search on an applicant to ‘screen’ them, but is this ethical?

We previously published an article aimed at candidates to try and get them to think about their Facebook and Twitter feeds and whether things they were positing were NSFW – – and a recent advertising campaign by Barclay's pointed out similar key points but with the boot on the other foot, how can you justify looking at someone’s private life and judging them on what they post online?

In the first instance, make sure you view their LinkedIn page before anything else. Seeing how someone portrays themselves to the business world is far more important than their private Facebook or Twitter accounts. This will also highlight any glaring differences between their CV and the online account of their resume. If job titles, dates of employment or education information are clearly inconsistent then you might need to drill down on this at a potential interview.

When it comes to Twitter and Facebook, people are more divided on the issue. Many people now choose to have their accounts on the maximum security settings so anyone outside their network only sees the bare minimum on their account. This would seem to be the obvious choice for a potential job-seeker but should they be forced to conceal their private life it is generally irrelevant?

Try to keep an open mind if you do choose to look at these accounts – weekends are meant for employees letting their hair down so pictures detailing raucous nights out (as long as they aren’t on a Tuesday) probably shouldn’t change your mind on meeting a candidate. Only look for something which could point to them being offensive of abusive. View the groups they are included in or anything they might Like or Follow – this should be a good indication of personality outside of the workplace.

If candidates are regularly updating Twitter and Facebook it’s a good indication of them being tech savvy and this can be a valuable asset to any modern business, as long as they aren’t promoting drug use, being abusive or frequently using terrible grammar or spelling then ignore them sharing videos of cats playing the piano. If someone has a blog as well then it’s always worth seeing what they write about. If they have a passion outside of the workplace, the chances are they will be willing to put in the extra effort at work as well.

Overall, it’s important for job seekers to remember that what they post online can be indelible and a quick Google search can kick up a huge amount of information which any potential employer could find, which might have an adverse effect on them securing a job. However it’s the responsibility of the employer to exercise caution in using these methods to screen people rather than the good old fashioned face to face interview – by all means do a little digging but stick to the facts about competency and capability before deviating in to boozing and banter!

If you would like any advice on hiring a candidate and using Cathedral Appointments to assist with any recruitment needs then please contact us on 01392 413577 or [email protected]