As the number of candidates rejected for historic social media activity increases, businesses must create guidelines for screening candidates.
Towards the end of 2017, high profile figures across the UK including Toby Young, Zoella and the former editor of the Gay Times came under fire for tweets they posted years ago. Two of these cases resulted in jobs being lost and all resulted in reputational damage to those concerned. Shortly after, the Oxfam story broke with allegations of insufficient screening of applicants at a local level in the waves of scandal that followed.
It is clear that social media and the globally connected world has changed the way companies are viewed by consumers. Add this to laws on modern slavery making supply chains more transparent and allegations of tax avoidance placing big business under the microscope, and companies are being examined from all sides. Little surprise that caution and prevention – rather than cure – is becoming a popular measure.
At Reed, we have seen the number of people rejected for a role due to historic social media posts increase by 5% in the last year. Employers are increasingly rejecting potential recruits based on perceived contentious content on their social media profiles – wiping out the concern that it could emerge from the history of the internet even if a post was published many years’ previously. There is a shift towards caution, especially for high profile appointments. Screening has become as much about reputation management as getting a good, truthful worker. And candidates should look into their historic social media posts for material that might be uncovered by a potential employer.
What the recent Oxfam scandal highlights is that the issue is not just confined to social media posts. The much longer lasting issue of untruths on CVs or application forms still lingers. We see that around 24 per cent of CVs contain 'discrepancies', so it pays to be vigilant when checking references and for recent convictions.
However, as a recruiter, a pre-employment vetting business, and as the leader of the trade association for the screening sector, I strongly believe in the need to protect job seekers and employees by having a fair, transparent, and standardised approach to screening.
Currently there is no robust, standardised approach to screening, and without a standardised procedure for social media screening, posts made at the age of 13 could be included in employer’s investigations. In the meantime, companies should ensure they have their own framework and guidelines to deal with historic information uncovered in the vetting process.
Clearly, there is a balance that must be struck between companies protecting their reputation and the employees they are responsible for, and being overly intrusive by holding people to account for actions they have long redeemed themselves for. The recently created ‘right to be forgotten’ policy may go some way to restoring the balance by helping both employers and employees avoid having past online mistakes used against them. However, for the moment, companies must screen and vet their associations, employees and partners, especially at a high level. The alternative is the risk of major crisis and a potentially irreparable reputational damage.
☛ Keith Rosser is director of Reed Screening and chair of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners - Europe.