Bosses may be sued for using Twitter to vet job candidates

Greater use of social media, like Twitter, should be encouraged. Picture: Greg Macvean
Greater use of social media, like Twitter, should be encouraged. Picture: Greg Macvean
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BOSSES who use websites such as Facebook and Twitter to vet prospective employees could be sued for discrimination and data protection breaches, according to new research.

Job-seekers have long been warned to be careful not to place too much information about themselves online, but a leading psychologist now claims employers who routinely scan social networking sites may actually be breaking the law.

Rob Bailey, from personality consultancy OPP, said a rejected candidate could allege the decision was based on “subjective biases, rather than sound work-related criteria”.

He added that an unsuccessful applicant could even claim that a potential employer had rejected them on the grounds of skin colour, gender or age as social networking checks are often made before a job offer and without a company policy in place to guide them. He said firms which become “friends” with a candidate on Facebook to investigate their private profile risked breaching data protection laws.

Mr Bailey conducted a survey of 1,000 people which revealed that about two-thirds of employers check potential employees’ social networking presence to gauge whether they are suitable for a job.

He warned jobseekers to choose the maximum privacy settings available for any social networking profiles, and also called on candidates to be mindful of the image these profiles could send out.

Mr Bailey, whose findings are presented at the British Psychological Society’s Occupational Psychology conference today, said: “We found that people who tended to use social networking more tended to be the kind of people who were impulsive and also less likely to be private. They were more likely to disclose personal information. These are the people who are prepared to share things in what is essentially a public space.

“When you are trying to maintain a reputation as an employee being more impulsive and sharing more personal information might be the kind of thing that gets you into trouble if an employer looks at your profile.”

Giving guidance for employees, he said: “Lock down your Facebook privacy settings completely.

“Or, if you don’t do this, make sure any level of information you share is appropriate for the social media image that you are trying to create. Twitter is completely public; only share things that support the reputation that you are trying to create.”

Polly Purvis, executive director of ScotlandIS, the trade body for the digital technology sector in Scotland, added: “Regardless of the legal issues, people looking for a job should be aware that employers are likely to look at any information that is available and that includes online sources.

“As a result, candidates should be mindful of any information that is linked to them, even if this refers to life outside work.”