Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at Accurate Background, a leading provider of compliant background checks, drug and health screenings, and Form I-9 verifications. They’ve been named to Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest-growing private companies for the seventh time. Congrats to them. Enjoy the read!)
When you look at the entire recruiting process, the activity that takes the longest is the interview step. Makes sense. It can take weeks to screen candidates, schedule interviews, and meet with everyone being considered for the job. In my experience, sometimes because the interviewing step takes so long, hiring managers might feel rushed to make a final decision.
And frankly, rushing to select the best person for the job can cause managers to make poor decisions. That’s why I think organizations need to make sure they pay the proper amount of attention to the evaluation and selection step of the process. I’m not saying that selection needs to take the same amount of time as interviews. Just don’t rush it.
One of the key activities that happens during the selection step is background checks. It might be tempting to simply skip this step to speed up the process, but background checks perform a valuable purpose. For example, an emerging type of background check is the social media background check. I think a lot of organizations are or should be curious to learn more about this specific type of background check. That’s why I asked Bon Idziak, chief compliance and government relations officer at Accurate Background, to give us a primer on the topic. Accurate provides organizations with background check services including credit, criminal, and social media.
Also, just a quick reminder here that while we’re talking about compliance matters, we’re not dispensing legal advice. It’s always a good idea to bring your own legal and risk teams into the conversation.
Bon, thanks so much for being here. Just to make sure that we’re all on the same page, let’s start with an explanation. What’s a social media background check? I’m sure it’s not Googling the candidate.
[Idziak] No, it’s not simply Googling the candidate. In fact, if you’re currently Googling candidates, please stop. To avoid bias —intentional or implicit — a third party should conduct a social media background check. A social media background check is an unbiased review of a candidate’s social media profiles. Social media screens use artificial intelligence (AI) and human analysis to flag many different types of undesirable content, including inappropriate photos or videos, indications of excessive levels of drinking or drug use, inflammatory or discriminatory commentary related to things like race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, criminal activity, bullying, and more.
While employers may use the information discovered in a social media screen to make employment-based decisions, they must still adhere to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance and follow the same pre-adverse and adverse action rules prescribed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). That’s why partnering with a reputable background screening provider, such as Accurate Background, is so important.
Why should an organization consider conducting social media background checks?
[Idziak] Social media screening is all about reputation management. Social media background checks allow employers to minimize risk by providing a level of insight into a candidate that simply can’t be found on a resume. A person’s social media profiles offer visibility into who they are outside the workplace and whether their behavior aligns with company values.
In your experience, what types of jobs typically include (or should include) a social media background check?
[Idziak] Employers should consider screening social media for all candidates. However, priority should be on management and public-facing positions, especially those in which the employee will use social media or maintain a social media presence. Some clients choose to screen for management positions and above, while others screen for all positions. It’s up to the individual employer to determine their needs and available resources.
When it comes to the actual background check, do organizations select what social media platforms they want checked? Or is this a general “all around the internet” search?
[Idziak] At Accurate, our social media screening tool uses AI to analyze up to seven years of public posts on the top five platforms — Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter.
Logistically, how does the process work? Meaning, does a candidate know that the background check is being performed? And do they have to authorize it?
[Idziak] Disclosure and a written authorization is a mandated component of the background screening process. Before an employer can conduct any employment-related background check, whether criminal or social media or otherwise, they must first make a disclosure to the candidate, followed by a written authorization, per the FCRA. This includes social media screening.
Depending on where the employer and candidate are based, this typically happens after an initial offer of employment is made. Employers can and should make all offers of employment contingent upon the successful completion of a comprehensive background check.
I’m sure one of the concerns regarding social media checks is that people post their celebrations (i.e., including drinking adult beverages) and frustrations (i.e., at companies and politicians). How does this factor into a social media background check? Do organizations get this information? Or can they specify in advance what they receive in the report? For example, companies can say, “We only want to know if someone is doing something like participating in a rally advocating hate crimes.”
[Idziak] The AI-powered tool is designed to home in on specific problem areas, such as hate speech, bullying, harassment, and illegal activity. While posts with these activities may appear in the report, it’s up to the employer to have a policy around what information they determine to be actionable.
You’ve mentioned that social media background checks require an authorization as prescribed under the FCRA. Are they also the same in that if the company makes an employment decision based on a social media check, the candidate is entitled to a copy of the report?
[Idziak] Yes. Suppose the employer plans not to hire the candidate based on the information obtained in the social media background check. In that case, the employer must adhere to all pre-adverse and adverse action requirements, including providing a copy of the report, and providing a copy of ‘A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act’.
Last question. If an organization does conduct a social media background check and sees something of concern, is it okay to ask the candidate/employee about it? Why or why not?
[Idziak] Absolutely. Especially if that ‘something of concern’ is a reason enough not to hire the candidate. Prior to any potentially adverse employment decision, the employer must address the concerning information with the candidate or employee in what is known as a ‘pre-adverse action’ notice. This must be done prior to making a hiring/firing decision and allows the candidate or employee to clear up any potential misunderstanding related to the report. The candidate has a legal right to dispute the accuracy of the report during the pre-adverse and adverse action process.
A huge thanks to Bon for sharing the process with us. I honestly could have asked a lot more questions! If you want to learn more about background screening, including social media background checks, be sure to check out the Accurate blog.
Also, mark your calendars. I’m partnering with the Accurate team on a webinar “How to Keep Top Talent During The Great Resignation: Using Upskilling and Reskilling Opportunities to Retain Employees”. The date is Wednesday, May 18, 2022 at 11a Pacific / 2p Eastern. I’ll be joined by Megan McGrady, senior manager of talent development at Accurate, and Mackenzie Egan, director of talent experience at iCIMS. It’s going to be a great conversation.
Organizations need to have a defined evaluation and selection process including what background screenings they will conduct. That includes having an opinion about social media background checks and the value they bring to the process.17