As a marketing professional, the issue of social media, employment law and recruitment has probably been on your radar for some time now. In fact, you may already have read countless articles from various employment law experts warning you (in a very dry way zzzzz…..) how to avoid the pitfalls that this electronic phenomenon presents. I’m sure we have all heard of horror stories involving Facebook and the now ubiquitous Twitter. We, literally, cannot escape it. Which makes the recent case of Paris Brown all the more surprising. There are a number of interesting issues arising from the downfall of 17 year old Paris, not least her name and job title, the Youth Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent. As you will probably know, Paris was only a few days into the newly formed post when the Mail on Sunday revealed that Paris had previously used her Twitter account to make a number of overtly racist and homophobic tweets. Oh, and they were a bit sweary too. So, cue public outcry. Especially as it turned out that Paris’ social networking had not been checked during the recruitment process. This is the really interesting part for me.
It is not that long ago that employers and recruiters were seen as acting a bit ‘Big Brother’ by looking at the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts of their prospective and current employees. There has clearly been a massive shift in what is acceptable when it comes to recruitment practices. These days, employers want to know exactly what their employees share with their internet ’friends’. Most employers will already have, or should have, an internet policy dealing with current employees. Dealing with prospective employees or candidates is slightly different. There is nothing to stop you searching online to find out exactly what candidate A does on their Saturday nights, where and with whom. It is amazing how much information is publicly visible. Just so long as it does not involve any hacking of course… However, any recruiter should exercise great caution when judging a person’s professional character or suitability on the basis of their private life. Your search for information will be subject to Data Protection principles. You should only process information that is relevant to the role. Searching social media sites may be justified for some roles but not for others. You may be required to disclose electronic information that you have processed relating to the candidate. Consider whether you would be able to justify that process to the Information Commissioner should the need ever arise. Rejecting a candidate for a role also exposes your business to the possibility of a discrimination claim. Depending on the facts of the case, reference to social media activities may not be justified. This could lead to a finding of discrimination in the absence of an adequate explanation for the rejection. Do not forget that whilst you may not agree with an individual’s publicly stated views or beliefs, those beliefs may not give you grounds to reject their application. More importantly, beliefs are not confined only to religious ideas. For current employees, a dismissal arising from social media postings outside of works time is potentially unfair. The context of the case is crucial and much will depend on your written policies. So tread carefully. Employment Tribunal claims are bad enough from your own employees. Dealing with claims from people who have barely set foot through the door is particularly exasperating. Don’t let you recruitment practices be found wanting in the search for the perfect candidate. Nick Wilson is responsible for the employment law service at Crooks Commercial Solicitors Limited, a specialist commercial law firm with experience in many sectors including recruitment. If you would like to discuss issues arising from the internet, social media and employment law, contact Nick on 01924 669159, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ccs-law.co.uk.