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Should your ministry “friend” job candidates on facebook?

By Dan Watson

Many employers know that the fastest way to learn about job applicants is to Google their names and see what pops up on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. While social media might be an excellent source of information, you should be aware of the legal and ethical issues involved in using social media to screen your staff.

Take a pass on passwords
Most social media users have privacy settings in place that make their Facebook pages viewable to only select people or networks. A hotly debated topic is whether or not current or prospective employers should have access to a job applicant’s Facebook password — and all of the information behind it.


This is just of several great articles from “Social Media Risk Management: A Starter Kit” — an in-depth eBook from Church Executive. Download the eBook (at no cost) here.


While most states allow employers to request job applicants’ social media passwords, demanding access to private social accounts has raised legal questions across the country.

Facebook has warned that requesting passwords could open companies to liability for invasion of privacy. In April 2012, Maryland was the first state to make it illegal for a boss to ask applicants or employees for passwords to any social media sites. Illinois followed suit in August 2012, and other states are considering similar bans. The law does permit employers to seek an applicant or employee’s user name to review public posts.

The best practice is to avoid asking applicants to provide passwords to their blogs or social media sites. Instead, stick to public information that you can see without a password.

Use only job-connected information
Social media sites can provide useful information about potential hires, but they also give employers a peek at personal information that might not be relevant to the job. This can open the door to discrimination claims, according to Dallas attorneys Peter G. Smith and Whitt L. Wyatt in their resource, Using Social Networking Websites for Hiring Decisions: Legal and Ethical Considerations.

Employers can possibly discriminate against candidates when they make hiring decisions based on information discovered online that they aren’t allowed to ask about durinadd-friend-on-social-mediag an interview. A person’s age, nationality, pregnancy or disability fall into that category of information — the type that’s available to employers only if it’s relevant to an applicant’s fitness to perform a job. Otherwise, federal law considers such questions discriminatory.

If you’re using social networks to screen workers, make sure to base employment decisions on information relevant to the person’s ability to do the job or fulfill job requirements. Ask an attorney to help you draw up some guidelines on how to use social media as part of your hiring process.

Stick to the facts
Some studies indicate that nearly 80 percent of human resource departments now use social media when evaluating candidates for potential jobs. Social media screening can help verify an applicant’s resume claims and give insight into a candidate’s personality. In some cases, it might also expose undesirable traits or behaviors.

Social media can be a useful hiring tool, but ministries should take care to use the tool legally and ethically.

Dan Watson is a communications specialist with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company in Fort Wayne, IN. More ministry-specific risk management resources are available on the company’s website.


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