In the brouhaha about four people suing LinkedIn for allegedly violating the Fair CreditReporting Act, people seem to be lining up either on the side of the plaintiffs–that LinkedIn has to be more careful of members’ privacy–or on the side of LinkedIn, that people have to suck it up in a world where social media rules. Frankly, they’re both wrong. Or rather, they’re missing the point. The real culprit here isn’t LinkedIn or the plaintiffs, it’s the boneheaded employers who made these people an offer of employment and then rescinded it.
The case revolves around an employer who made an offer of employment, then checked around with some people who worked at the candidate’s place of business at the same time as the candidate. These were not references provided by the candidates, just other people who showed up on LinkedIn as working at the same place at the same time. Yes, it could be that these people barely knew the candidate. It could be that these people hated the candidate because of his cologne or political leanings or tendency to quote Ayn Rand and that the “reference” had no real knowledge of the candidate’s skills or work ethic.
But while LinkedIn makes it easier for employers to find out about candidates from people other than their stated references, the company hardly invented the practice. It’s called a “back door reference” and it’s been around forever.
But the back door reference wasn’t really the problem. Yes, it’s true, a back door reference can yield shaky information since the source may not know much of anything about the candidate as an employee. But all the litigation surrounding references has made them a little more popular. A lot of companies have stopped giving references altogether because of lawsuits in which someone recommended an employee who later did criminal things or someone who didn’t recommend someone who later couldn’t find employment.
So employers use lots of different ways to learn about candidates: They use their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, their LinkedIn profiles and Instagrams and friends and associates. Nobody’s quite sorted out how privacy can really work in the social media age.
But whatever an employer plans to do to find out if he’s making a good hire, he needs to do it before he makes the offer. Any employment attorney will back me up on this. Hiring people is absolutely riddled with potential liabilities and it’s really important to make sure you’ve crossed all your T’s and dotted all your I’s before you make an offer to someone. Hence the adage: “Hire slow, fire fast.”
Questioning whether the long arm of social media is reaching too far into our private lives is a much sexier problem…but it’s not the issue. The issue is good, old-fashioned, by-the-book HR. Following the laws and best practices and making sure you’re doing your job correctly and fairly.
We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.