business ethicsBusiness SchoolsHR & Compliance

HR Question: Using Social Media in Hiring – Is it Ethical?

By October 13, 2015 No Comments

Here’s a question I have asked students at the University of Florida, University of North Georgia, Baylor, Gardner-Webb University and a host of others: Is it ethical for me (as an employer) to view your social media sites and use that content to help me make a hiring decision?

What do you think the student response is?

Social MediaWhat I heard from students was a resounding NO!  Yet, the frequent use of technology in the workplace is undeniable creating a digital footprint of who we are (or profess to be on line).  Some employers ban social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, recognizing that the use of social media can not only be a distraction from work, but a temptation to act unethically.  Other companies find that they closely are monitoring employee postings.  Yet others use social media in hiring and performance evaluations.

From the student perspective, social media sites often contain very personal and intimate information – information they don’t necessarily want others to use when evaluating their suitability for a job.

Employers however, recognizing the growth and proliferation of social media in every day life, recognize that public information (so well preserved in sites like Facebook) can provide a clear insight into attitudes and actions of prospective employees – information that could easily help one determine whether a prospect or an employee for that matter is apt to maintain confidences or is a social media blabber mouth.  Most employers I have interviewed would say that there are more good consequences than bad in allowing an employers to make employment determinations partially based on an employee’s or an applicants social media sites.

A Student’s perspective

“When what I post on my social media accounts has nothing to do with the job I’d be performing, then using that information against me is unfair and disrespectful.  I would say it is unethical.” – University of Florida student.

Fair enough!  But in that same class I was engaging in an ethics presentation with I asked a rebuttal question.  “Let’s assume that you’re applying for a job in the financial services profession – one that requires confidentiality.  Then let’s say that on your Facebook page you have numerous pictures of you at parties where its clear from the picture and comments you are drunk.  So, is it fair to assume that when drunk you might be less apt to keep a confidence?”

Reluctantly most of the business students I was addressing said, “Yes.”

“As an employer, then from my perspective the case is closed.  The value of using that information to make a decision is a greater benefit to the employer than the ‘disrespect’ you might feel by me viewing and using it.”

Where do you stand?

I have the privilege of consulting with companies of all sizes.  We talk about the rules of engagement so to speak and the ethical implications behind those decisions – especially when we are dealing with an ever changing environment like social media, hiring  and ethics.

Hiring the right employee is critical.  In an age when it is so easy to have one disgruntled employee elect to make data easily obtained electronically, public, in an effort to punish an employer for a perceived wrongdoing, the value of using social media information creates a strong and practical need to make great decision at the beginning.  To balance the legitimate interests of the employer and the employees/prospective employees is not easy.  There are very real ethical issues to discuss and define.  But in an age when our lives are made public (by us) on social media, it is fair that what is public is known or at least discoverable.  After all, if you didn’t want someone to know or find out – just don’t post it!



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