Recruiting with Social Networks Is Iffy

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In March, I railed against employers who use the Web and social networking sites to screen candidates for jobs at their companies. I argued that it's unfair for employers to base professional hiring decisions on personal information about candidates that they discover online. Such a use of the Web and online social networks is also potentially discriminatory, I noted in Job Seekers to Employers: Stop Snooping.

So when I recently read about a bank in Texas that prohibits internal staff and external recruiters from using social networks in its recruiting process, I was pleased to learn that at least one company refuses to use the web to snoop into prospective employees' personal lives.

For Houston-based Amegy Bank of Texas, the decision to ban the use of social networks from its hiring process was primarily driven by the CEO's desire to avoid "legal landmines", according to an article on Law.com via Texas Lawyer. Even though employers can legally troll social networking sites for information on prospective employees, they can still get into big legal trouble if they eliminate candidates from consideration for the wrong reasons. For instance, if an employer disqualifies a candidate for a job after finding out via the books on the candidate's Amazon.com wish list (turned up via a search engine) that she wants to get pregnant, the candidate could sue the employer for discrimination.

Amegy's CEO also established a 'no social networks in recruiting' policy out of "respect" to potential employees (and, presumably, to their personal lives), according to the article. (I should note, as does the article, that Amegy is investigating low-risk ways to incorporate professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, into its hiring process.)

I think Amegy is being smart about limiting the use of social networking sites in its hiring process, and I hope more employers follow the precedent the bank is setting. Banning what amounts to online snooping will prevent costly and time-consuming litigation and will demonstrate that employers respect job seekers' and employees' privacy. It won't negatively impact employers' ability to quickly find talented candidates. Let's not forget that employers have been able to do this just fine for years without online social networks.

Whether you agree or disagree with me or with Amegy, I recommend reading Texas Lawyer's article. It's a quick, easy read that takes you through the CEO's thought-process on this controversial issue. It also clearly explains the myriad legal pitfalls associated with using social networking sites for recruiting, not to mention the systems and processes Amegy has put in place to enforce its policy.

This story, "Recruiting with Social Networks Is Iffy" was originally published by CIO.

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