In the world of Human Resources and recruiting, we’re hearing about more companies that do “social media” profile searches on their current and potential employees. Companies are interested in requesting passwords so that they are able to login as the candidate and view all of his/her information and communication via Facebook. Is this something that you do or are considering doing?

If you do choose to review your employees and candidates online, here are a couple of pitfalls to watch for:

• Inclusion of protected information: Many online profiles include information that is protected under Title VII such as: age, race, marital status, religion, etc. Even if you don’t intend to use this information for your hiring decision, once you have it, it’s hard to prove that it wasn’t a factor.

• Similar or same names: You would think that Brozovich is a fairly uncommon name. A while ago I Googled my son’s name and found that he had been arrested for breaking and entering in North Carolina. Since David is 9 years old and has never been to North Carolina, I highly doubt it was him. A prospective employer might not know the difference. Fortunately, that record doesn’t show anymore.

• Protected activities: A recent newspaper article here in Kalamazoo was about a company that was unionized. The prime method of communication during the campaign? You guessed it, Facebook. If their current or perspective employer had asked them to share their passwords, or attempted to view their pages during the campaign, that could very well have been an unfair labor practice based on their right to engage in concerted activities.

The State of Illinois is currently considering legislation that would ban companies from being able to request Facebook passwords. Other states are considering similar legislation and are likely to follow suit. Facebook has announced that it considers such requests as a violation of their terms of use policy.

So what’s an employer to do? Focus on what truly matters for the position. What a candidate did in college likely won’t have an impact on his/her job performance today. Focus your selection process on evaluating his/her skills. Then hire a professional background service to do a thorough criminal record check.

Finally, as leaders, watch what you post online. Since my Mother, my Mother-in-law, and my kids are all Facebook friends, I’m naturally careful about what I post. Maybe you should ask them to follow you as well. It’s a great reminder to keep things professional.

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