Employers are watching you! Be careful on social media

The perils of social media - an inappropriate comment made in a Facebook post, or even an ill-judged retweet on Twitter - have caught many a celebrity or politician out in recent years. Much embarrassment has been caused and many a career affected by misjudged social activity.

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It's no surprise either that all employees, regardless of their status, also need to be careful about what they post on social channels. It has become common practice for employers and HR teams to do a 'social media sweep' on their potential recruits and existing employees.

Putting aside the ethics of the issue, everybody should appreciate that employers have watched, do watch and will continue to watch social media activity. For example, if an employee takes sickness absence from work, they can now reasonably expect that their Facebook posts might be scanned over by HR - just to check that the person in question isn't on a beach somewhere.

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The problem for employees or job applicants is that their social profiles reveal so much about their personalities. It is easy for employees to find out a lot, with minimum effort, and that is obviously highly appealing to HR teams. In the US, there are even companies that offer social media screening for business, enabling organisations to monitor the social media activity of potential recruits and current employees.

One such company, Fama, uses machine learning to analyse the online presence of applicants. Its software is primed to look for indicators of risk, cultural fit and of high performance.

Evidence of racism, homophobia, sexism or drug/alcohol use in social media posts are the types of activity that are likely to cause problems for employees with their employers. 

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Of course, the ethical questions social media screening raises are plentiful. For an entire generation of people now entering the workplace, a potted history of their whole lives can be found online through their social media accounts.

It is estimated that over 60% of employers use social media screening to some extent before making hiring decisions. The EU is set to tighten its data protection policies from May 2018. According to the new guidelines published by EU data protection agencies, job applicants will need to be told before they submit an application if social media screening is to take place. Regulators also insist that any data collected from such as search must be relevant to job performance and deemed to be necessary.

In theory, this means that an employer who checks a candidate's social media profiles could find themselves in breach of European law. However, in reality such regulations could be very difficult to police. It is likely that an employer that finds something they don't like about an applicant from social media will simply find another reason not to appoint that person.

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Therefore, it is unlikely that social media screening will stop any time soon. It is simply too useful an activity for HR teams to give up altogether. For this reason - along with basic common sense - people should always be very careful about what they choose to post on their social media profiles.

Simon Julier This article was written by Simon Julier, Corporate Sales & Development Manager at Pertemps.

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