EU Looks at Limiting Employer Social Media Snooping

Rising levels of employer reviews of job applicant and employee social media posts continue to stoke concern over personal privacy or even if many social media posts are reliable predictors of performance or potential.

Rising levels of employer reviews of job applicant and employee social media posts continue to stoke concern over personal privacy or even if many social media posts are reliable predictors of performance or potential.

As more employers view social media posts by prospective and existing employees, the European Union is moving to put up some boundaries for online snooping.

CareerBuilder, a recruitment company, says 70 percent of US employers admit to using social networks to screen job candidates. That’s up from just 11 percent in 2006. In a survey conducted for CareerBuilder by Harris Poll, more than a quarter of employers said the discovery of online content caused them to reprimand or fire existing employees.

According to a report by the BBC, an EU working group is looking at ways to impose restrictions on employer searches. The working group’s recommendations could wind up influencing changes in EU data protection laws.

Many states, including Oregon and Washington, have passed anti-snooping statutes. Research for the Society for Human Resource Management indicated only 20 percent of HR professionals use social networking screens, largely because of potential legal risks involving racial, religious or age discrimination. They also question whether social media posts are good predictors of performance or potential.

Snooping techniques such as demanding an employee’s or job applicant’s passwords or making a friend request are already taboo, Human resource experts also say it is good form to let an applicant know when a social networking search is planned.

But the emerging EU recommendations say searches should be relevant to a person’s qualifications or job performance. Searches also might vary by the type of social network. Deeper dives, for example, might be allowed in sites such as LinkedIn, which is intended for professional networking and job searches.

The Harris survey for CareerBuilder found that provocative photographs or content and evidence of drinking or drug use were the top job search terminators. A third of respondents in the survey said they would rule out a job candidate who made discriminatory comments or bad-mouthed a previous employer.

On the flip side, a job candidate’s cause could be aided by posting information or evidence supporting their self-described qualifications and maintaining a site projecting a professional image.

Job recruiters, based on the survey, look for online evidence that someone is well-rounded and has a personality that would fit a company’s culture. Not surprisingly, communication skills, or the lack thereof, on display in social media can tip the scales for or against getting a gig.

While there may be a presumption by some that social media is intended for exchanges among friends or followers, there may not be exactly how job recruiters see it. In a 2014 story in Time, people in the job market were warned not to post about illegal drug use and take care with their grammar. The story noted that one in six recruiters took into account a person’s political affiliation.

Some of the concern over employer snooping in social media stems from the use of search engines to track what employees are posting, whether at work or on their own time. Many employers take social media posts seriously enough to discipline or fire employees over content they judge as inappropriate or defamatory.