Labour & Employment Newsletter: Winter 2020

Social Media Background Checks in the Hiring Process

Many employers conduct social media background checks to screen job applicants during the hiring process. These background checks are a way for employers to gain information about prospective employees and judge how they will fit in the workplace. They can alert employers to problematic social media content that may cause reputational damage. Social media checks can be a valuable tool but they can also create problems for employers. This newsletter alerts employers to some of the risks associated with social media background checks.

What is a social media background check?

A social media background check is a review of an applicant’s social media presence. It can be as simple as reviewing an applicant’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. An employer can review social media itself or engage a third party to do it.  Social media background checks are frequently used to supplement other job screening methods such as employer references or criminal record checks.

Risks with social media background checks

While social media checks can provide an abundance of information about an applicant, employers have to be cautious about its accuracy. It may be difficult to detect which social media account matches a name on a resume. Social media profiles may be set up to deliberately discredit the job applicant. Information may be out of date or it may be irrelevant or prejudicial. Employers should take care to ensure applicants are screened based on accurate information. Failure to ensure accurate information may result in passing over a potentially valuable employee or overlooking problematic social media content of a new hire.

Employers should carefully assess information obtained from a social media background check. Employers can inadvertently gather information that is not relevant to the applicant’s job performance and it is difficult to disregard the information once it is known. Under human rights legislation, employers cannot consider an applicant’s religion, gender, family status or any other protected ground. Employers may leave themselves vulnerable to a human rights complaint if an unsuccessful applicant claims they were discriminated against based on information uncovered on social media.  Consider the following examples:

  • An employer checks a job applicant’s Facebook page and discovers she is trying to have a baby
  • An employer views a YouTube video of a job applicant talking about his struggle with depression
  • An employer reviews an applicant’s social media posts and learns the applicant used to be on social assistance

If an employer views this information and decides not to hire an applicant, the employer may be accused of discrimination. Employers should carefully consider how they will assess an applicant’s personal information in the hiring process.

Employers should not assume they can anonymously complete a background check. Some social media sites allow individuals to see who viewed their profile. Individuals can also use web analytics to determine what IP address accessed their personal information.

For a further discussion on social media in the workplace, see our Summer 2017 newsletter.

Conclusion

Used appropriately, social media background checks can provide employers with helpful information on job applicants. However, these background checks are not without risk and employers should consider how they are used during the hiring process.


This newsletter is produced by Wickwire Holm to keep our clients and friends informed of developments in the law and emerging issues. It is intended for general information purposes only. In preparing and circulating this newsletter, Wickwire Holm is not providing legal or other professional advice. Readers are encouraged to consult their professional advisers before taking any action on the basis of information contained in this newsletter. If you have any questions about any issues raised within this newsletter or a related issue, please contact us at wh@wickwireholm.com or 902.429.4111.