Banning Employers from Using Facebook as a Recruitment Tool

Online reputations matter for job seekers.  According to a 2009 Microsoft study, nearly 80 percent of employers consulted online information in making interviewing and hiring decisions.  For over seventy percent of those surveyed, this has led to the rejection of job applicants.  Mindful of the power of search, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has predicted that young people may one day be entitled to change their names on reaching adulthood to escape embarrassing information about them stored on their friends’ social media sites.

Rather than condoning name changes, German lawmakers are considering restricting the kind of online information that employers can consult.  Proposed legislation would ban employers from looking at a candidate’s Facebook page yet permit them to consult sites that facilitate self-promotion such as LinkedIn.  Employers could still use Google to research potential hires unless the information is “too old” or the candidate had no control over its creation.  Finland has banned employers from using search engines to investigate job candidates.  States like Illinois and Oregon have sought to protect future employees in another way, i.e., by banning many employers from checking job applicants’ credit.

Should law prevent employers from obtaining and using certain information about individuals?  These sort of laws might prevent employers from relying on misleading or incomplete data.  Research suggests that a person’s credit history has little to no connection with trustworthiness on the job.  Information posted online can be taken out of context, providing a distorted view of someone who might in fact be an optimal candidate.  Using law in this way might, however, permit people to hide truthful (though damaging) information, exposing employers and their stakeholders to a variety of risks.  In an insightful post, guest blogger Jeff Jonas called for greater tolerance of our eccentricities for our age of over-sharing.  The key question is whether employers will adopt that approach over time.

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5 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    I’m glad to see from the first article that German companies won’t be able to put video cameras in toilets (any more?). That, at least, seems reasonable to me. I wonder, though, how this law could possibly be enforced. I don’t suppose companies in Germany have to tell every applicant why they were not hired, and if not, how would they know? I don’t have a facebook account, so maybe it’s easy to tell who has looked at you, but if not,it seems like a bad idea to me, as I’m not in favor of laws that can’t really be enforced.

  2. A.J. Sutter says:

    “Using law in this way might, however, permit people to hide truthful (though damaging) information, exposing employers and their stakeholders to a variety of risks.” So? You could argue that the 4th and 5th Amendments expose society to a variety of risks too, concerning the hiding of “truthful (though damaging) information.” Will risks to employers if they abstain be any greater than they were in the pre-Internet days? More importantly, should the interests of employers be allowed to trump the interests of individuals to a life outside of work? I agree with Matt about the difficulty of enforcement, but I don’t think we should be shedding tears for employers.

  3. It may be difficult to identify offending employers that wrongly consider online information about job applicants. But this is similar to currently existing, and also difficult to enforce, laws barring consideration of: gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, marital status, age, credit and criminal records (in some circumstances), whistleblower status, political perspective (in the public sector), etc.

    Despite the difficulty of detecting law-breaking, when enforcement does happen, there is a positive effect not only in individual cases, but in the aggregate. As cases accumulate, employer norms will shift in response as companies promulgate policies written by liability-averse employer counsel.

    Digital media make it all too easy for a person’s different selves to collapse onto each other. And because digital media is not going away, we need to regulate it responsibly to ensure we foster persons and personalities that are more than merely their employer-acceptable forms.

  4. A better idea might just be for some of you people who like this kind of regulation of employers to go out and become actual employers yourselves. Then you can implement your own progressive, far-sighted employment policies, become the employer of choice among those who are indiffeent to their public personna and with this kick-ass talent base, clean the competitions’ clocks.

    This just highlights an ongoing lament of mine: that all the best and the brightest available to run and own our businesses are seemingly instead mired in places like Washington, Annapolis and the halls of Academia; progressively and selflessly giving the rest of us the key to corporate success.

  5. Ken Arromdee says:

    Maryland: the problem with that idea is that there is no reason to believe that the rejected applicants are *more* talented than the accepted ones, so the employer is only harmed by having a smaller group of prospective employees to choose from. Starting a competing business out of a belief that a business that doesn’t discriminate is more efficient won’t work–the gain to efficiency is miniscule and overwhelmed by the other advantages that an established business has over a newcomer. And you’re suggesting that the business be started for the purpose of demonstrating that businesses that don’t discriminate are efficient, which is even worse. Not to mention that the field is probably saturated and can’t handle another business already.

    And this applies to any sort of discrimination, not just Facebook-based.