The quick answer is yes. There are no privacy laws preventing your employer from reading the information that you publicly share with others. And there are also no laws preventing them from using that information for HR purposes (such as promotions or terminations). There have been several news-worthy instances in which people have lost their jobs as a consequence of something they shared on social media. There are, however, some restrictions. If you are looking for a way to avoid having professional trouble for your social media activity, here are a few useful tips:
Audit Your Social Media Accounts
Depending on the time you have been active on social media, there might be posts or pictures that you don’t even remember. Start by visiting https://checkpeople.com/ to run a quick background search on yourself. The results of this search will include more than social media: you get a report, including court records, sex offenders lists, and current and past addresses. It will also include a comprehensive report on everything that’s publicly available on social media.
Understanding your own digital footprint gives you leverage before an important job interview. More importantly, it will let you correct serious mistakes that may show on your public record. And, even when you find conflicting information, it will give you a chance to prepare yourself to answer difficult questions. Remember that most hiring managers will value your honesty when it comes to something like an old misdemeanor.
When it comes to social media, you can start by erasing posts that may come off as controversial or conversations in which you can seem rude. Pay attention to posts in which your friends have tagged you: it may seem that you support or condone something, and you may not even be aware of it. It is not recommended, however, to fully erase social media accounts, as most hiring managers will regard this as suspicious.
Protect Your Account
Most social media platforms allow you to manage your own privacy settings. While hiring managers can use what’s publicly post on social media for hiring decisions, they are not allowed to ask you for your passwords. They are also not allowed to ask you to sign-in to your accounts during the interview process. Specifically, on Facebook, you can set your privacy for each post, allowing you to keep your personal information private. You are also able to restrict who can post or share on your wall, and who can tag you.
Most workplaces have policies regarding on-site social media usage. Read your employee handbook to check if they can monitor your online interactions on company computers. Ideally, refrain from using social media from your workplace, as it can be deemed unprofessional.
Social Media Etiquette
Your digital footprint is permanently attached to you. Even when you erase something from the internet, that information remains stored. The background check industry is rapidly transitioning to rely more and more on artificial intelligence, and bots may find stuff buried on servers. This is why proper etiquette and mindful usage of social media is always encouraged. Some tips to consider:
- Interact as you would in real life. If it’s not okay to say something in person, it’s not okay to post it.
- Express your political views freely but respectfully. Address controversial topics with care, and think about the future: will this have an effect on your chances of getting a job?
- Protect children’s privacy. Online safety experts recommend not posting children’s pictures. If you have teenage kids who use social media, educate them on social media manners, and talk to them about their digital footprint.
Protect your Rights
While there are no laws preventing current or potential employers from checking out your social media accounts, in doing so, they might incur on one of the following:
- Discrimination: Using information such as your ethnicity or the fact that you are pregnant to make a hiring decision is illegal. If you did not disclose this information yourself, they likely found it on social media.
- Non-Compliance with the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act): Most in-depth background checks require your written consent.
Social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends, and it may even be a wonderful job-searching tool. That said, the mindless use of social media can play exactly the opposite role. Think twice before posting or commenting.