Social Media Background Checks: Proceed With Extreme Caution, Lawyer Says

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine  

CHICAGO--Employers that wish to vet potential employees using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter must be very careful not to violate anti-discrimination laws, an attorney said June 17 at the Society for Human Resource Management's Annual Conference & Exhibition.

Employers often say they want to access social media information about a job candidate because they want to know as much about him or her as possible, but "there is an awful lot of information about applicants that you don't want to have," Michael S. Cohen of Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia said.

The compliance risk is that by viewing a candidate's Facebook or Twitter profile, a hiring manager often can immediately see what protected classes the candidate belongs to, including sexual orientation, religion, race, age, and pregnancy status, Cohen said.

"It's all on there," he said, comparing the resulting compliance problem with asking the candidate in an interview prohibited questions about his or her age or sexual orientation.