Monday, January 2, 2012

Social Media Recruiting: TMI (Part II)

Best Practices for Recruiters to Prevent Lawsuits
Part I of this series focused on the legal risks that recruiters should be aware of when they recruit using Social Media. In Part II, I will discuss some Best Practices or Guidelines for Recruiters to implement on the job so as to avoid these landmines.

A company must have a Social Media Policy for all of its employees, but Recruiters, as employees who use Social Media as part of their role on a daily basis, must have enhanced rules or guidelines for their specific and unique role in the organization. This will ensure that recruitment is handled in a consistent manner throughout the organization, regardless of who is doing the recruiting or where the recruiting takes place.

Most Social Media policies that are specific to recruitment are called “Best Practices” as opposed to “Policies.” This term seems to highlight the flexibility required when recruiting unique individuals as “Best Practices” can be interpreted as “suggestions” as opposed to mandated rules. It is important to consider whether your organization wants to allow the recruiter to have discretion as to whether to implement the suggested practices or whether it makes more sense to mandate the requirements by calling them “rules” or instituting a recruitment “policy.”

Whether your company calls it “Best Practices” or a “Recruiting Policy” or something else, recruiters should do the following when recruiting while using Social Media sites:

  • Identify which Social Media sites your company will use in recruitment.
  • Identify yourself as a recruiter for the Company. Act as a Company Representative.
  • Be consistent in your company's recruitment approach.
  • If possible, insulate protected category information from the hiring manager.
  • Maintain proper documentation and tracking throughout the recruiting process.
  • Create a user experience that highlights the company as a wonderful place to work.

A Monster, Indeed!

Before incorporating Social Media searches in recruiting, the organization should identify the Social Media sites they wish to use, focusing on securing relevant, work-related information. The choice should not be random (or based on the sites that the C-Suite has heard of.) For example, According to Kissmetrics, Digg has the largest demographic of users with a graduate degree and Stumbleupon is popular among graphic designers. Each site has unique user information and should be selected with careful consideration as to why/how it will help your organization recruit effectively. The reasons should be documented in the event that the company needs to offer a business justification later on.

For example, Unisys, an Information Technology company, explains its recruitment strategy this way, “
In aligning with our corporate strategy, there were four main social networks that we wanted to focus on for our recruiting effort: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn...In addition to these big name online communities, we worked closely with Unisys regional operations around the world to identify niche social recruiting sites that worked well for their regions, such as Orkut in India and Brazil. Facebook, for example, was not allowed in China, so we are exploring alternative social media outlets there. Unisys uses each social media outlet differently...LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a network whose members are looking for information about and opportunities for professional growth. As such, it’s become a powerful and cross-promotional part of our social media strategy. …After all, hiring the right talent is a business objective, not simply an HR objective."

The search should seek publicly available information. Recruiters should not allow the searcher or others in the recruiting department to “friend” an applicant in order to see private profile information. Recruiters must remember that all “conversations” and “searches” can be retrieved and used as evidence in litigation. Recruiters should be careful and conscious when engaging in online conversations about discussing “protected category” or personal information. Recruiters should remember that even though they are/have “Friends” and “Fans,” that they are actually creating professional connections and to act accordingly in all communications.For example, P&G wants its company recruiters to use Social Media to create relationships with Generation Y as part of P&G’s Next Generation Attraction campaign. In pursuing this business initiative, P&G is clear that it wants the students (future hires) to initiate the first contact with P&G. As part of its Social Media and Recruiting Best Practices, it states, “Etiquette: Students can often feel anxious about companies’ access to their personal profiles. Therefore, our stance in using social media tools for recruiting will be passive. When communicating with students, it is imperative to let the student initiate first contact with the Company. Focus on maintaining communication with only those students that have expressed an interest in P&G – from there, please feel at ease using sites as communication tools to build relationships with candidates. Additionally, we should never send mass messages or “spam” candidates.”

Let’s Be Crystal Clear

Recruiters must be transparent about their role as recruiters and that they work for your company when recruiting candidates online. This will not only ensure that your company does not run afoul of FTC transparency requirements, but will allow talent to identify them as trusted allies in the hiring process. It is important, however, that you inform your recruiters to not only identify themselves and their company while engaging potential hires online, but that they must either keep their personal sites separate and use a disclaimer to set forth that their personal opinions are their own, or in the alternative, that they solely act as company spokespeople, do not have personal sites, and act with all of the responsibility that this role entails.

Recruiters should use the official company logo and brand as official company spokespeople acting in that capacity. Continuity of logo, brand and corporate strategy should be consistently used in Social Media, even by recruiters, so as to ensure potential hires know and trust your company as a trusted potential employer. Finally, company recruiters should be told clearly that company sites, logos and the followings that gather there are company property. That means that even when the recruiter leaves your company, that the recruiter understands that they may not unilaterally change the profile name to their own and take the “Friends” and “Followers” with them as their own following.

For example, in a case that may be one of first impression, Phonedog, a mobile news and review company, is suing a former employee for “taking” 17,000 Twitter followers with him when he left the company. According to, Noah Kravitz worked as a mobile phone reviewer for Phonedog for four and a half years. He had been part of a “virtual office,” so when he left the site in October 2010, the only thing he really ‘packed up’ was his Twitter account. He had started it in 2007 and chose the Twitter handle @PhoneDog_Noah. When he left Phonedog, he had approximately 17,000 followers and changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz. Phonedog is suing Kravitz for the value of those followers and for stealing their trade secret information (in the form of followers, much like a customer list) and Kravitz’s password. Although Kravitz was not a recruiter for Phonedog, this case stands represents for employers that they must set the ground rule out early that recruiters’ relationships made online and on behalf of the company are proprietary information owned by the company.

Consistently Consistent

Recruiters must approach online resumes with a consistent approach. That means that searches should be conducted either before the initial interview or after the first phone screen, but at the same time for every applicant. The same process should be followed for each candidate without regard to protected categories. If the company is not conducting Social Media screening for every applicant, than the company should objectively designate particular job categories or departments that are included and consistently follow those guidelines. Consistency based on objective criteria and job qualifications will help your recruiters defeat a claim that they had intent to discriminate against any one candidate. Consistency is the key. Therefore, in larger companies that employ many recruiters, (especially those that work virtually and do not have the opportunity to talk-shop with their peers) training the recruiters about these consistency requirements is critical.

Every applicant must be informed that the application process includes a Social Media check, if this is part of the process. In some states and for some applicants, this will include a notice and waiver, as we discussed previously, to comply with the federal and state consumer reporting requirements. All of this must be consistent and proactively prepared ahead of time with every recruiter having a thorough understanding of the company’s consistent processes. Recruiters must understand the unique Social Media “paperless process” of online recruiting from posting a job description, receiving the resumes, following up with a contact for interviewing, providing the appropriate FCRA notice/waivers, ending eventually with an offer letter. If all of this is done virtually, the recruiter must be a literal “expert” on topic so as to field the email questions that many applicants have throughout the process. For example, is your recruiter prepared to explain the notification process when an adverse action (no hire) occurs based on information that surfaced as a result of a Social Media screening of the applicant? Training recruiters about this “paperless process” can prevent an uniformed mistake from turning into a lawsuit, evidenced by your recruiters smoking gun email.

Watch out for the rogue manager/interviewer who does not know the laws about lawful recruitment and hiring. I have seen many companies invest huge sums in educating the recruiters and hiring managers about lawful hiring practices and interviewing, only to have an applicant interview one-on-one with the person they will be working with or working for…who knows nothing about these laws. Without proper education about protected categories, for example, a casual conversation between potential colleagues will quickly trail to questions about the kids, the wife, and even religious practices. All of which are taboo in the interview process. To make matters worse, when the interview is conducted via chat or by email, as is often the case when recruitment is done virtually, these inappropriate questions leave an online trail that can be used against the employer in litigation.

I Did Not Just See That

If only we had the ability to erase some things from our memories. Certainly, the eighties for me are long gone, but that is not by choice. By now you understand that there are serious legal implications for employers who know personal information about applicants, such as their age or that they are pregnancy that give rise to discrimination lawsuits. The idea is not to pretend that you do not know this information if you do know it, but rather to take as many steps as possible to show that all recruitment and hiring decisions are made based on legitimate job criteria, qualifications and experience, rather than on the personal information we learn about candidates.

Because Social Media undermines that effort simply by providing recruiters with pictures of applicants and their user profiles, the best strategy for companies that can have more than one person doing the recruiting and hiring or who outsource this, is to insulate the decision maker from the recruiter or screener who may see protected category information at first blush (pun intended). The searcher or recruiter may cover up, redact or eliminate the protected category information, which will allow the ultimate decision maker to decide whom to interview or hire based on the information that is not protected under the law, such as how many years of experience the employee has had doing the job for others. That may not help a recruiter avoid a claim that there was discrimination in the recruitment process, but it will help defend against a claim of discrimination in the hiring process, which is more common, as vested applicants are more likely to sue than those who never reached the interview stage.

Am I Being Redundant?
It is my perception that employment lawyers tend to fall into two categories: those that advocate a lot of documentation by managers and those who do not. The latter fear the smoking gun, which emanates from an overly documenting, yet untrained workforce. The former group says document everything. I fall into the former group. I say, “document, document, document.” Am I being redundant? In online recruiting, one Best Practice, in my opinion, is for recruiters to consistently document the results of the Social Media searches, (removing any protected information). Search results should be maintained consistently with the organization’s record keeping policies. Also, the legal, legitimate reasons for ultimate hiring decision should be documented. If the company rejects applicants based on Social Media search results, this decision should be based on a legitimate, job-related reason (for example, the applicant lied on their resume about having a graduate degree) and documented.

Don’t forget to inform all of your employees that they should not be doing their own Social Media searches, investigations or “Googling” candidates, as tempting as that may be.

You Will Love It Here
Another key distinction between recruiting online as opposed to traditional means of recruitment is that recruiting employees through Social Media requires recruiters to actively create a user experience for the applicants. That is, recruiters should not just post jobs on job boards, they should also engage in conversations about recruiting, about their company’s unique talent, about what it is like to work at the company, about the amazing initiatives or causes that the company supports and responding to job seekers questions, concerns and commentary. Therefore, another Best Practice for recruiters is to leverage the unique nature of Social Media to engage potential applicants in dialogues that will ultimately, but indirectly, attract the best talent to your company. That being said, recruiters must be diligent about monitoring these Social Media conversations. When the conversations turn "ugly" or a disgruntled ex-employee begins to post, recruiters must partner with PR and Legal to ensure that the company's brand is protected and no "protected concerted activity" is taking place, before the recruiter can "react" in writing.

In Careerbuilder’s “Best Practices For Using Social Media to Recruit,” it says, "Create A User Experience: Social Media is about creating an open dialogue and building relationships with others. Create a space where current and potential employees can interact – sharing success stories about working with your organization – and responding to job seeker’s questions. Listen Learn and Engage: The most important thing you can do on any site is to listen to your audience – both what they are saying to you and what they are saying about you. Don’t be afraid to respond: There is no better way to build trust with your community. Highlight Specific Jobs: Go beyond posting all your job openings: Provide talent unique job information about the company itself. Help candidates understand why your company is the right place for them. This is the most important practice, in my opinion. Engaging the community in dialogue about how amazing your company is to work for and how they can help your company succeed. Do not, however, make any promises that guarantee employment or create a contract for employment by discussing start dates, wages or benefits until the offer letter is sent out.

Another example of leveraging Social Media to recruit talent is the US Army’s official game "America's Army" that allows players to virtually participate in training missions and fight one another online. "America's Army" is a free-to-play game that has become a more effective recruiting tool for the Army than all other Army advertisements combined. In addition to attracting recruits through gaming, the America’s Army website provides inspiring personal video stories of soldiers who “found their strengths with an Army lifestyle.”

Certainly, there are many potential lawsuits to “fear” when engaging in Social Media recruitment. The “fear” however should not preclude you or your company from advancing, along with technology, into the foray. Rather implement these Best Practices, and do not be afraid to enjoy the benefit that comes from Social Media recruiting, which is getting to know your audience, engaging them in conversations about what you love, namely recruiting for your company or organization, and brag about the many positive accomplishments it has achieved.

Do not fear the Social Media savvy applicant. Many employers are wary of employees that use Social Media a lot, especially when the job for which this applicant is being recruited would not benefit from this skill set. They question whether they should even hire an executive assistant who in her spare time blogs voraciously about cooking and has over 15,000 followers dedicated to her Twitter profile. Many states, including California, do prohibit discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process based on lawful off-duty conduct. Deciding not to hire someone just because they are active Social Media users, may qualify as lawful off-duty conduct. The decision to hire or not to hire should always be based on legitimate, objective criteria related to the specific job qualifications.

*The use of company examples and policy examples, herein are not an endorsement by me of any of these practices or a legal opinion about these company practices or policies, which I did not write or review.


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