Too Much Information: Googling Job Candidates is a Legal Risk
By: Beth Slagle
Need directions to the hot new spa you want to try? Google it. Need a review of the must see chick flick out for the holidays? Google it. Need background information about a prospective employee? Be careful about Googling it.
Internet users have become so accustomed to logging onto search engines like Google for instant information about anything, anytime, anywhere that the term “Googling” is widely accepted vocabulary. It’s only natural, then, that employers should consider Googling prospective employees a harmless, logical method of gathering background information.
Whether it’s a one woman shop or a multi-layered organization that’s dealing with recruiting, there’s a good chance this practice is being used as part of the weeding-out process. But, what administrators must be aware of is that when an employer enters the name of a job candidate in an Internet search engine, this simple act potentially opens the door to a host of legal implications.
Maybe the results are harmless, and the job candidate is only mentioned briefly in a couple of local news stories about the college he or she attended. Or, maybe the results are more sensitive. Perhaps the potential job candidate regularly blogs about strong political views, or is a member of a controversial organization. How do you deal with that type of information? You can’t un-know something once you know it.
In either case, there is a possibility your “Googling” could turn up information current laws prohibit an employer from using as the basis of a hiring decision. Some examples of information that could appear in an Internet search that can’t be used in a job decision include:
• The fact that a job candidate has been involved in union activity or protest marches
• Photos or chat room posts that show that a female candidate has young children or cares for an elderly relative
• Details about a job candidate’s disability
• Private habits that are legal, such as gambling.
Where the parameter of qualifications used to be confined to the hard copy resume and cover letter, Googling now provides instant access to extensive information regarding the life and history of almost anyone. Questions that certainly can’t be asked in an interview may be easily answered with an Internet search.
Even if the employer does not use the information obtained in an online search to make a job decision, the fact that s/he has seen it and rejected a job candidate could lend credence to a lawsuit or administrative action claiming discrimination in employment. For example, someone in an alcoholism recovery group could claim that after an employer saw her affiliation with the group online, she was rejected from consideration for employment.
The increased connectivity created by the Internet and other technologies has changed the employer-employee relationship on a number of levels, making it necessary to incorporate new guidelines into company policies. While businesses already routinely develop policies regarding the recruitment, interview and hiring process of prospective employees, many may need to be adjusted to account for the advent of Googling.
Regardless of the number of companies actively Googling job candidates, the impact of Internet resources on professional relations is undeniable. Internet trends like blogging and social networking are taking the professional world by storm and changing the work environment every day. As long as technology continues to evolve, policies and procedures will need to keep up in response. And as long as we have Google, we’ll know how to look them up.
Beth Slagle, Esquire – Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, LLP email@example.com or 412.456.2890