Pre-employment Background Checks on Social Networking Sites - May Your Boss Be Watching?


The practice of using social networking sites (SNS) for pre-employment screening has become increasingly popular. Although using SNS as a hiring tool may prove to be a potentially promising source of applicants’ information, it is also fraught with potential risks that uncover both legal and ethical challenges. The latter is also the reason why there are conflicting views about the practice both among the employers and employees as well as legal systems. 

In this paper I first aim to compare the privacy approaches in the US and Europe to investigate whether a job applicant actually has a right to expect privacy on SNS, and then I will examine the practices in a set of European countries (Estonia, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland) to analyze under what conditions employers are allowed to carry out background checks on SNS and weather the employer may base their hiring decision on the information found from these public domains.

My analysis suggests that pre-employment background checks are generally considered to be acceptable in the US and also in Estonia; employers in the UK, Germany and Finland however, are not always allowed to investigate applicant’s background on SNS and should thus not be able to base one’s hiring decisions on the information found from SNS.

My analysis reveals that the countries and employers need to work towards clarifying privacy standards and policies that would take into account the context created by the new technologies.

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