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Is It Legal for Employers to Check Your Social Media?

Social media may seem fickle to many observers and users. Trends come and go, stars rise and fall, and something new is always stealing the show. But that doesn’t mean past posts are gone forever. A moment in the spotlight might seem brief, but publicity can have lasting implications, whether it’s positive or negative.

Recent reports of people losing their jobs over social media posts say a lot. Here is the long answer to whether it’s legal for employers to check your social media.


Is It Legal for Employers to Check Employees’ Social Media Profiles?

The short answer is yes. It is completely legal for employers to check employees’ social media profiles. Some states even allow employers to solicit social media usernames and passwords from their workers. In general, state and federal privacy laws dictate what employers can and cannot ask for.

It’s essential to note that potential bosses aren’t the only people who can get your information online.


Who Can Find Your Information Online?

Whether you are an existing employee or a job seeker, any organization or individual who has your name can likely find you online. The only way to avoid social media background checks is not to use social media at all. Even then, there are online databases that populate information about your location, age, and family ties.

Whatever someone discovers about you on social media is within the realm of public information. For employers, this is a benefit because it allows more in-depth verification of applicants’ qualifications and even personality traits.


How Social Media Platforms Use Your Data

For job seekers, this can be a potential drawback to finding a new job. However, it’s essential to consider that employers are not the only ones who can see your information online.

Social media sites have different rules regarding privacy and ownership of social media content you post. For example, Facebook maintains rights over the content you share. Even after you delete photos, they may remain on Facebook’s servers.

Other platforms may have policies and service terms that specify what type of information those sites retain about you and your digital activity.


Benefits of Sharing Social Media Data with Potential Employers

If you’re a job seeker looking to defend your rights when it comes to social media, your frustration is understandable. No one wants to feel like their information is out there for the taking. But that’s exactly how our digital world works, whether you are applying for jobs or not.

Truthfully, there are many benefits to keeping your social media pages visible for prospective employers to view. Professional-centered sites like LinkedIn allow you to share relevant job history and affiliation information. Contacts can “upvote” your skills and endorse the abilities you have, highlights for hiring managers who are looking at your details.


Steps Toward Better Job Application Odds with Social Media

There are proactive steps you can take toward ensuring your social media isn’t a deal-breaker when it comes to the job you want. Knowing what employers are looking for on social media can help you “clean up” your profile and put your best foot forward.

On all social media sites, you can stand out by ensuring your accounts have professional profile pictures. Many digital media experts also suggest using the same profile picture across all sites to maintain consistency. Nixing potentially offensive or easily misinterpreted usernames or nicknames is helpful, too.

To increase your odds of passing employers’ social media investigations, follow advice such as:

  • Don’t use harsh or discriminatory language on posts, whether public or private. Even a private post can go public if someone on your subscriber list decides to share without your permission. Plus, no one wants to hire employees who can’t relate to others and accept differences.
  • Keep photos work-appropriate—not too much skin or alcohol—and don’t overdo the selfies either.
  • Don’t partake in illegal activities such as using substances or committing crimes (though this should go without saying).
  • Don’t post updates or images while on the clock or in your current office or company building.
  • Consider who you associate with. People who speak poorly of you—or share objectionable content—could affect your ability to get a job.
  • Think before you post and avoid posting anything that could be misinterpreted or attributed to you in an unfavorable light.

So what should you do to encourage employers to swipe right? A few tips for showcasing your talent if prospective bosses are surfing the web for information on you include:

  • Use clear communication and engage with others in thoughtful ways.
  • Make connections with people in your industry or the industry you want to work in.
  • Keep professional pages professional. For example, don’t share casual or personal updates on LinkedIn.
  • If you don’t have anything positive to say (about an ex, a former boss, etc.), don’t post anything at all.


Limitations to Social Media Background Checks

There’s a lot of information employers can see on social media. But there are limitations to using Facebook and other platforms as pre-employment qualifiers. For example, as a business owner, even if you discover sensitive information about a potential hire, you cannot use those details as part of your hiring decision.

Off-limits information includes items like a person’s race, ethnicity, religious background, disability, and other factors. Discrimination also covers situations like pregnancy. So, if the hiring manager finds out you’re pregnant from social media, that condition cannot be part of their hiring decision.

If an employer chooses not to hire someone after learning these facts about them—even if they ignore such details—they could face a discrimination lawsuit as a result.


Requirements When Using Social Media as Part of a Background Check

The Federal Trade Commission has specific stipulations on how employers can use the information they find on social media. In fact, they have a specific set of rules called the Fair Credit Reporting Act that mandates certain disclosures if a company decides not to hire someone based on their credit or background check.

For example, say an employer runs a social media background check. The employer uses the information they found to deny a job offer to someone. According to the FCRA, the company must disclose the reason they choose not to hire that applicant. In short, a potential candidate has the right to know why they are not receiving a job offer.


Smart Social Media Tools for Employers

Because checking employees’ (and job applicants’) social media profiles is entirely legal, many HR departments turn to the web to weed out candidates. But logging in to your Facebook account isn’t enough to uncover everything you need to know about a potential hire. Fortunately, applya can help guide your company with expertise in background screenings, compliance documentation and more.  We provide companies a choice of reliable vendors for employee background checks and a host of other verifications – tying all of the needed documentation together and making the screening process easier for you and your team.