Using Social Media to Screen Prospective Employees

What every employer needs to know before you Google that name 

Tempted to Google that job applicant’s name? It’s easy, free, and you get immediate results. Whether you can really use those results, well … that’s another story! 

Type a person’s name into an online search engine, and you might pull up a video from YouTube, a profile on Facebook, photos, and many other pieces of information that can instantly create a “social resume” for that individual. Many job seekers post their career history on LinkedIn or other professional associations which allow potential employers to see what type of volunteer activities they are involved in, or what types of organizations, service clubs, religious, or political parties they are a part of.  The truth is that one’s personal information is only one click away!  

Federal Law and the Protected Classes 

Despite the convenience of using social networking websites in recruiting or screening for potential employees, employers should be aware of legal ramifications connected with social media screening.  In the United States, various employment discrimination laws are in place to protect people from discrimination in the workplace. There are a number of federal and state statutes that outline how these groups are protected, including: 

  • Race 
  • Religion 
  • National Origin 
  • Age (people over 40) 
  • Gender Identity/Sex 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Citizenship 
  • Familial status 
  • Genetics/Color 
  • Veteran status 
  • Physical or mental disability status 

In social media, the risk of running across this type of protected information is obvious. People often share a great deal of highly personal information on their social media profiles.  

An employer may directly or inadvertently come across information on an employee’s personal social media account that could be considered “protected.” You open yourself up for being accused of making an adverse hiring decision based on many possible protected classes as soon as you hit “search.”  

The same goes for a careless remark made on Twitter or a questionable photo on Instagram—concerns include verifying the information or penalizing for exercising their freedom of speech. Employee screening that is performed solely through social media is considered “word-of-mouth” recruiting. This practice involves results that are non-verifiable and has been found to be highly vulnerable to discriminatory practices—which has resulted in lawsuits that many employers have lost.   


In Oregon, House Bill 2654, prohibits employers from accessing employees’ private social media sites.  The law makes it an unlawful employment practice for employers to compel employees or applicants for employment to provide access to their personal protected social media accounts. Employers may access information and content posted by or about an employee or applicant that is publicly available – for example, the public information on a Facebook account and any content not designated as private by the account holder. 


The California Labor Code has a specific provision related to Employer Use of Social Media (Chapter 2.5 Section 980). The Section lays out an employer’s responsibilities regarding their employees’ use of social media and restrictions on what an employer can ask for. An employer in with California employees is prohibited from asking a current or prospective employee to provide access to their social media account or to disclose their social media account credentials to the employer. Here’s the full text of the relevant Section: California employers are prohibited under California Labor Code section 980 from requiring or requesting applicants or employees to disclose information regarding their social media accounts. In other words, an employer cannot ask a potential hire or a current employee for the password to his/her Facebook account to see information that might not be shared with the public or to accept a “friend” request. 

If you are an employer who does not have an HR department, or certified HR Specialist working for your company, you may want to leave modern-day staffing challenges to an employment services provider who has the expertise and experience to recruit and screen that potential employee AND keep you compliant with labor laws. If you’d like help in finding the perfect employee for your business, call Cardinal Services at (800) 342-4742.