Is it legal to hire based on your social media profile?

(Jason A. Howie/ Flickr)

(Jason A. Howie/ Flickr)

As winter semester comes to a close, students scramble to submit job applications in hopes of landing a summer job. More employers are requiring candidates to include their social media account names in the application process. But what exactly are individuals agreeing to when they send their account user names?

This was the exact discussion at the “Is that legal? Ethical? Hiring Using Social Media/Web Results” event hosted Wednesday by the Career Development and Employment Centre at Ryerson University.

Kyle Tettman, district manager at Launch! marketing agency, and David Goodis, director of legal services and general counsel at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, discussed how much information employers can gather on potential employees via social media.

Students may not be aware they have a right to informational privacy, meaning a right to control the collection, use and disclosure of personal information.

“This almost becomes like a Charter value. Privacy has a fundamental place in a modern democracy. This ability shouldn’t be taken away from you,” says Goodis.

The extent to which a company can use social media and background checks depends on whether they are a public or private organization.

For a public company such as Ryerson University, a background check is allowed if it is first legally authorized and secondly necessary to the hiring process.

For private organizations, a check is only allowed if a candidate gives consent. When consent is given, employers are able to look at personal information on social media profiles freely.

It’s also important to note that even though information may pop up on a Google search, that doesn’t mean it’s public knowledge. Organizations still may not be able to collect it and use it towards examining whether a candidate is a good fit.

But, ultimately it is the student who controls what is posted on their accounts and the impression they give, says Tettman.

“Set the breadcrumbs to where you want them to go,” he says. “Meaning you control what people think about you when they search your profiles online.”

He encourages students to be mindful of what they’re posting and tweeting. It’s not just about ensuring there’s nothing illegal on your social media accounts, but examining the image they portray.

What people see online should match your real self, but it should also look okay. “Doing a keg stand isn’t illegal, but it doesn’t look great as your display picture either,” he says.

Tettman and Goodis said their organizations do not “Facebook creep” or look up an individual’s social media accounts without permission when deciding on interviewees for a potential position.

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