Family Wants Social Media Background Checks After Workplace Shooting

Last summer, a supermarket employee in New Jersey walked into his workplace and killed two employees before shooting himself. It was later revealed the gunman had posted this chilling question three years prior on his Twitter account: “Is it normal to want to kill ALL of ur (sic) coworkers?”

In the wake of this tragedy, family members of one of the victims are now lobbying for legislation that would require an employer to review a job applicant’s social media history as part of their background check before hiring them. Aptly named “Cristina’s Law” after 18-year-old victim Cristina Lobrutto, the bill contradicts new legislative proposals by state and federal lawmakers seeking to protect an individual’s right to social media privacy.

This year, thirty-five states currently have legislation pending that would prohibit employers from requesting an applicant’s social media password as a condition for employment. Maryland, California, Washington, New Jersey, Illinois are some of the states that have already passed such laws. Similar legislation also prevents colleges and universities from requesting social media personal information.

Advocates of Cristina’s law argue that if employers had seen the New Jersey shooter’s previous Twitter posts, he never been hired by the supermarket chain. Opponents of the law argue that reading one’s social media history is the equivalent to asking for their personal diary or reading private emails. Lawmakers voting to prohibit social media screenings feel that a basic criminal background check should be sufficient.

So what do you think? Should employers be able to consider social media posts before hiring applicants, or is this a violation of privacy?

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Social media background checks can have implications of liability

We’ve written a lot about social media background checks lately, because it’s a trend that’s creeping into both formal company policies and informal hiring practices. It’s on the minds of employers who haven’t begun implementing any sort of social media check, and it’s on the minds of every Facebook and Twitter user who has contemplated what sorts of things they’ve shared that might come back to haunt them during their next job search.

Employers need to think long and hard about possible legal consequences before asking job applicants for their username and passwords in order to access personal profiles on select social media websites. Employers often don’t realize that once they’ve asked for an applicant’s social media login information, they become liable for the content posted.  This can be trouble in a few different ways.

  1. If an applicant admits guilt to some kind of crime within their personal profile, the employer who is given access to it may assume liability for protecting the information they find.
  2. If an employer finds out an applicant’s age, sexual orientation or another protected class, and then decides not to hire that person, they could be opening themselves up to discrimination claims by the applicant who was not given a job.
  3. If an employer misses signals or warning signs and something happens (crime is committed, someone is injured) the employer could become liable.

Social media background checks are here to stay in some capacity. But employers need to approach this trend with careful consideration.


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States propose anti-social media background check laws

Are you requiring job applicants to fork over their social media website login information as part of your company’s pre-employment screening process? While checking social media sites is becoming more and more popular among employers as yet another avenue for finding out all they can about a prospective employee, some state lawmakers and organizations are already gearing up to fight this practice, which they say is an invasion of privacy.

This past week Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was added to the handful of state representatives across the country who are proposing laws to make this practice illegal. Blumenthal says that his bill, once finished, will include some exceptions, like for federal and local law enforcement agencies, and government agencies that handle national security issues. He did indicate that private companies that receive government contracts would be regulated under the legislation.  

A similar bill in Illinois is backed by the ACLU. Such a law, if it passes, would make it just as illegal for an employer to ask for an applicant’s Facebook password as it is illegal for an employer to ask a woman if she plans to have children.

As we’ve advised before, employers who wish to conduct social media background checks – and the numbers are growing – should tread carefully, so as not to open themselves up to discrimination claims or risk using false information when weighing their hiring decisions.


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Study finds reviewing candidates social networking sites can predict future job success better than standard tests

Perusing social networking websites as part of employment screening tactics is a trend that’s catching on across several industries worldwide. But could using information gleaned from social media sites be an even better predictor of job success than traditional standardized tests used by human resources professionals to determine someone’s personality as it pertains to their aptitude and attitude?

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology claims just that. The study found that a 10-minute review of a candidate’s Facebook profile page could yield not only red flags – past indicators of possible future problems – but also “an unvarnished look at a job candidate” and clues to “character and personality.”

The study involved trained “raters” who spent five to ten minutes evaluating 274 Facebook pages of job candidates and answering questions related to their personality. The researchers followed up six months later for performance reviews from the supervisors of 69 of the job candidates – approximately 25 percent of the original group – and found that the quick Facebook evaluations more accurately predicted success than standard IQ and personality tests.

The study doesn’t suggest employers should forgo the traditional background checks and employment verification processes in their employment screening protocols, but it does suggest that much of what we put online about our personal and professional lives can tell prospective employers a lot about us, and about whether we’d be a good fit for their company.



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Social media background checks come with potential complications for employers

More employers are using social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to find out more about their potential employees. While such social media background checks are becoming increasingly popular, they come with a host of potential land mines, including privacy issues and misinformation. Here are a few legal risks employers take when applying pre-employment screening processes to an applicant’s social media persona.

  1. Credibility, Accuracy and Authenticity Issues: Is the information accurate? How do you know?
  2. Computer Twins: Many, many people have “twins” online – more than one person who shares their exact name. How do you know whether the information you’ve found is about your job applicant, or someone else with the same name?
  3. Too Much Information: There is a wealth of information on social media sites that employers can now find but legally CANNOT use when making hiring decisions. Knowing an applicant’s race, religion, marital status, age, sexual orientation and other details about live sex sites their personal life can open you up to a lawsuit if someone doesn’t get the job and is suspicious about why.
  4. Too Little Information: Employers could be accused of negligent hiring if someone is harmed by an employee and that victim can show that easily accessible information could have prevented the hiring of that person. If an employer hasn’t thoroughly checked every available resource for information on that applicant, he could be looking at a lawsuit.
  5. Legal Off-Duty Content: As long as it’s legal, what someone does in their personal life, on their own time, is none of an employer’s business. Yet social media sites sometimes reveals information to employers that alter their sense of a job applicant’s judgment, personality or morals. While an employer has to take into consideration the whole person when hiring, it is illegal to discriminate based on someone’s personal preferences or lifestyle choices. 


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FTC Weighs In On Social Media Background Checks

The Federal Trade Commission has now weighed in on the growing issue of social media background checks for employers.

The FTC recently released a statement regarding employers who hire a third party service to do a social media background check, calling such a third party service “a consumer reporting agency because it assembles or evaluates consumer report information that is furnished to third parties that use such information as a factor in establishing a consumer’s eligibility for employment.”

That means those services need to be in compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Agency rules. Employers that do hire out special employment screening services for social background checks should consider the following steps to help ensure they are in compliance:

  1.  Update the notice and authorization documents given to applicants to include social media BEFORE searches are requested.
  2. If an applicant is eliminated as a result of a social media search, send the applicant a pre-adverse action notice along with the report given to the employer by the screening service.
  3. After rejecting an applicant, send a final adverse action notice to them containing the language required by the FCRA.

Note: Employers that opt to use an internal social media background check are not subject to FCRA standards.

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Does Your Company Have A Social Media Policy For Employees?

Everyone’s talking about social media background checks as the next trend in employment screening. Companies already are popping up to probe into the personal Internet profiles of job applicants. While this type of pre-employment screening can in some cases be useful, there are thorny privacy issues and potential issues with bias and discrimination.

What if a social media background check on someone turns up nothing illegal but something an employer deems to be unsavory or simply in poor taste. Will their view of the applicant be unfairly skewed based on something that has nothing to do with the applicant’s ability to perform the job he or she has applied for?

The first step an employer should take when contemplating the implementation of some sort of social media background check for employees (current or prospective) is to take a look at the company’s internal social media policy. Do you have one? According to a recent survey, nearly half of all businesses do not have social media and networking policies in place, despite the fact that 76 percent use social networking for business purposes. The survey, conducted by Proskauer’s International Labor & Employment Group, was of more than 120 multinational employers.

If your company doesn’t have a social media policy, now’s the time to get busy crafting one. Set down some social media standards that employees are expected to adhere to, and have every employee sign a written copy of the policy. Having set standards for employees will give an employer a more objective way to screen potential employees using social media in the future.

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2009 Went by Quickly… Did You Miss These Popular Posts?

The year 2009 certainly flew past at lightning speed!

If you weren’t able to keep up with all the VerifyProtect posts, don’t worry!  We’ve compiled our top-rated ones for you below.  Enjoy!

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  • Think Twice before Hitting That “Friend” Button

    You’re on Facebook just like millions of others around the globe.  So when an employee invites you to be “friends”, your first instinct is, “Sure!  Why not?”  But is that really the best decision?

    Social networking is becoming a bit of a conundrum for managers, especially those who are in positions of significant power at their organizations.  For instance, if your “Facebook Friend” doesn’t pass a random drug screening, are you going to be less likely to take swift, zero-tolerance action? 

    Though most supervisors and VPs confidently assert that they can separate work when needed, it’s becoming harder and harder to discipline employees if you are communicating via social networking.  After all, how easy is it to fire someone with whom you regularly IM, text and/or tweet?

    Many companies have now begun to institute policies regarding social networking, but there’s always going to be a gray area.  Just make sure that you contemplate the potential downside of accepting a colleague as a “friend” before making that leap.

    Background Screening and Social Networking — Q&A