IMHRO: HR Should NOT Use Social Media to Influence Personnel

Namely’s series, In My HR Opinion, brings you honest takes on the hottest HR topics and trends, straight from industry leaders.

This week, we spoke with several HR professionals about the pros and cons of looking at an employee’s social media presence. While many shared guidelines for navigating this murky territory, Dan Deibler, HR Coordinator at Gateway Learning Group shares why he thinks it’s prohibitively difficult for HR to fairly assess a new hire based on their social media presence. Here’s what Dan had to say.

Social media that is posted to your Facebook or Twitter account is your curated social group. Some people use these networks in close ties with what they do at work, and some people use these platforms to vent about their job. It’s really a grab bag of whether or not people are sharing things that could be relevant to their professional lives. More often than not, I believe people will find more embarrassing yet irrelevant details on social media feeds than genuinely damning content.

We complete professional background checks on job candidates, so I already know if there is something in their history that I should be concerned about. Yes, if an employee is constantly posting about a violent act, that is relevant to the job, but if they’re just sharing an opinion, while it may be controversial, it’s not directly relevant to the workplace. HR is not equipped to justly and fairly judge someone’s social media presence. Who is determining the standard for what is moral? I know I can’t make a thorough enough assessment to include this as a part of the hiring process. The amount of training that would be necessary before adequately evaluating someone’s social media channels is way too daunting a task for companies to take on.

I’m committed to facilitating an impartial hiring process, and even with all of my precautions, we’re still human at the end of the day. Every company struggles with separating what’s relevant in the hiring process and what’s not, but factoring in social media just further complicates this. No workplace can really know enough about someone from their social media presence to make an accurate judgement on their ability to do the job.

California has very strong rules about what you’re allowed ask candidates before they accept a formal offer. Looking at their social media profile before this stage breaks the spirit of those rules because, intentionally or not, the private information on their profile can lead to discrimination or bias against them. Social media is a minefield of protected information, so it’s not worth the risk to jeopardize compliance by playing with the limitations of hiring legislation. We set clear guidelines on what managers can and cannot ask, and we review the hiring process frequently.

I’m lucky to work in San Francisco and at this particular company, where I feel comfortable sharing my queerness and eccentricities with my coworkers without judgment. I regularly engage in a historically misunderstood internet subculture, so I have to calculate very carefully who I feel comfortable sharing the details of my social life with. I have not experienced that same comfort with past jobs, so I’m not confident they would have combed through my Twitter feed with a clean lens.

If my coworkers dug into my social media, they might see a side of me that I don’t share at the office—but it has no impact on the workplace or my ability to do the job. Even if you try to be as impartial as possible, social media snooping opens a weird door where you now have a view of employees that you’re not supposed to have. Reviewing someone’s social media is simply not worth the discomfort and the effort to catch the few legitimately bad people out there.

I don’t want my coworkers looking at all of the sad breakup art I posted online, and I don’t want to see theirs. I’m sure we have a lot of genuine and valuable people on our team who go home and do different things on social media that don’t necessarily showcase the values they bring to work. With nationwide privacy concerns, companies have a responsibility to honor private spaces. Given that nothing is ever truly private, workplace privacy is a noble goal.

To anyone else evaluating this policy, I pose this question: How are recruiters investigating social media? Should they only look through self-reported feeds, or must they investigate it on their own? How should a recruiter locate a new hire’s Facebook, Twitter, after-dark Twitter, Instagram, DeviantArt, edgy teenage LiveJournal, etc. What’s the method for determining what constitutes a sufficient investigation? I’m extraordinarily skeptical that a company can form an effective and consistently relevant procedure for social media snooping.

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