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Human Resources and Social Networking

     Today with millions engaged in social networking, one never knows what one will find. But be assured, there are people looking. This column deals with the human resources aspect.

    Many companies are adopting rules banning employees from visiting social networking sites such as Facebook - their concern being employees wasting time on the job. However, employers would be wise to have personnel within the human resources departments joining and working several social networks, and for multiple reasons.

    The social networking world has been a boon to employers looking to find good candidates for openings. By maintaining an active network, those charged with recruiting can solicit candidates from a large number of people in whom they have some level of trust. This is a very effective way of getting the word to those who are not looking for a new position, the group that is generally the most fertile hunting ground. Remember that online appearances can be deceiving, and recruiting online is only a starting point.

    The flip side is just as important. Those charged with hiring today are negligent if they do not check out serious candidates online. This means running the names through search engines. It also means having HR personnel who are members of Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other networks search for additional knowledge about candidates in cyberspace. If a prospect is posting embarrassing photos of himself and his friends online, at least he should be aware that it may well cost him a position. In an extreme case, it might get someone fired. At least here in Texas, most employees are employed at will. Employers, especially those quietly looking to cut overhead, should be expected to add social networking behavior to the selection process.

    For some reason, people tend to be more casual online than they are in person. It probably has something to do with its being easier to stick it to someone without having to look at them while they suffer. This writer is just waiting for the juicy lawsuits to start, where a job applicant learns she was turned down due to a casual but defamatory comment made by a "friend" online. Everyone should be aware that their public online correspondence might also be functioning as reference letters.

   The last area is really tricky and yet to be fully developed from a legal standpoint. How do the laws dealing with employment discrimination come into play in cyberspace. Clearly some cases are easy. No company should post an illegally discriminatory description of requirements for available positions. But there are grey areas. To the extent online questionnaires invite prospective applicants to submit information, they should be as carefully worded as an application form or set of standard interview questions. Even further into the grey, to what extent will those doing recruiting in social networks be tempted to consider illegal factors when perusing networks maintained by third parties. Some of those networks invite very detailed profiles. And those profiles and/or their accompanying blogs could easily include information such as religious beliefs, which ought not be considered in employment. Such information could also be included in correspondence between a possible candidate and other unknown persons.

   Of course, nothing in the law prohibits discrimination against someone for being stupid or rude. And all too many people are casual to the point of stupidity or crudeness in cyberspace. For those who might be looking for employment, the rule is to maintain the same level of politeness online as one ought to maintain in direct person to person dealings. Rudeness in cyberspace is there for all to view.


© 2007 Daniel A. Krohn
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