The New Ethical Responsibilities for Modern HR Professionals | LabourBlawg

The New Ethical Responsibilities for Modern HR Professionals

by JRO on January 8, 2014

While background checks may have been customary procedure in your company for years, the use of social media has provided new methods by which you can research prospective candidates. As an HR professional, you are permitted to complete a background check on anyone who applies for your company. However, there are strict guidelines you must comply with to adhere to both the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Equal Opportunity Employment rules and regulations. Below are some considerations to keep in mind when performing background checks.

You Must Be Consistent

Consistency is key–this is a common theme in the HR industry and holds true in performing background checks. All job candidates applying for a position at your company must be subjected to the same background check. However, this is not to say that different levels of research and background checks cannot be utilized at different stages during the interviewing and hiring process. For example, you might perform a precursory, social media background check on a candidate, but wait until you are ready make a job offer to run a criminal background check.

You Must Keep Clear And Detailed Documentation

Most human resource professionals keep application and on-boarding checklists for reference. This ensures that information doesn’t get lost, and helps to document gathered information on prospective hires. This is vital for consistency. It also helps to ensure that your systems and procedures are not discriminatory. When you make changes to any part of the application or onboarding process, be sure to keep a clear record of when each change was implemented.

Social Media Background Checks Must Be Limited To Public Information

While candidates may provide you with social media information pertaining to their professional life, such as their LinkedIn profiles or professional Facebook Fan Pages, they are not required to share their personal social media account details. As an HR professional, you are allowed to perform a general search for your candidate’s social media activity. This means typing their name into a social media search bar and viewing photos or posts they have been tagged in, or any of their public social media profiles. However, it is unethical to perform a search that would give you access to their personal social media information. For example, it is unethical to login to an individual’s account that has access to a candidate’s personal information and then viewing the personal posts and activity the candidate has intentionally blocked from public view. Another unethical action is to friend request a candidate through a social media site, pretending to be someone that they know in order to gain access to their personal social media profiles.

You Can Outsource Your Background Checks

While you may have been outsourcing your criminal and credit background checks for years, you may be performing your social media background checks in-house. However, as the popularity of social media background checks continues to grow, there are social media background agencies that are in compliance with both the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Equal Opportunity Employment rules and regulations.

By creating a clear plan of action, and ensuring you are up-to-date with the most current federal and statewide HR laws, you can safeguard your business from unethical screening and hiring.


Herman Trombold writes on education, business, employment law, the economy and other related areas. If the field of HR intrigues you, Herman recommends the human resources management certificate program from

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