Online social media sites present job reference challenges for employers. Are employee job references, provided by an employee on a social media site, an official company reference for purposes of background checking and employment? No. Should employers utilize social media job references? Sometimes and maybe. But, as with anything to do with the online world of social media, the devil is in the details.
My recommended Employment References Policy states that employees are not authorized to provide a reference: "Under no circumstances is any other employee authorized to provide a written or official employment reference for the company." The word that needs interpretation is "official."
Both employers and employees need to know that social media references don't count - except as an informal acknowledgement that somebody, somewhere out there, likes you enough to say so. This does not constitute an employment reference.
The dilemma lies in the interpretation made of any online or social media references by a potential employer. The employer does not know that your company policy is that employees are not authorized to provide official references for other and former employees.
Social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook make recommending an employee’s current and past employment easy to find and trace. Consequently, it is an easy leap for a potential employer to interpret any recommendation found as coming from your company. This is wrong on the part of background checking employers. It's also understandable - but don't make that mistaken leap.
Social Media Job References and Legal Claims
Another dilemma is differentiating a friend or colleague's social media references from references authorized by the company. Once again, the referrer’s company link is easily noted and the reference poses a potential problem for the company in any legal proceeding.
If the social media posted friend’s recommendation is incongruent with the company’s reference, documentation, and claims, can the unauthorized friend’s job reference be used to fight unemployment compensation claims, wrongful discharge claims, and / or discrimination claims? Technically, as a non-official job reference, the employee reference should not be considered. But, lesser matters have clogged up the U.S. courts for years.
The colleague’s social media reference says that the employee is a great team player with outstanding communication skills. The employer’s documentation notes excessive absences and a track record of failed projects and goals because of the employee’s failure to communicate in a timely manner. So, what’s an employer to weigh when considering social media references?
Employers and Social Media Job References
Primarily, the employer must note that online references are not official company references, just personal opinions, most probably from a friend. Note also, that the individual receiving the personal or job reference has the choice about whether to accept the finished posting on their site. They can ask the referring person to rewrite and change the reference, too.
Consider the congruence of online references with other data you’ve gathered about the potential employee. Social media references can provide interesting additions to your potential employee profile, but take them for what they are worth. Regard references in social media the same way you consider personal references from ministers and friends.
Employer Reference Policy
Consequently, these suggestions may mitigate the risks of unauthorized employee job references on social media sites.
- State in your company reference policy and your social media policy that: “Under no circumstances is any employee authorized to provide a written or official employment reference for the company. Employment or work references written in personal letters of recommendation (not recommended), presented as verbal recommendations, or appearing on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook (not recommmended) must state unequivocally that they are made as a personal reference and that they do not, in any way, represent the company or the position of the company.” Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the President of (Your Company).
- Educate employees about the potential impact of their, seemingly harmless, written job references on social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Do your employees stop to think that their own integrity is on the line? How will potential employers and others view the referrer and his or her recommendations? Can your employee, without concern, recommend the requesting person? Or, at least, does your employee carefully differentiate what qualities or skills they are recommending. The social media world is small.
- Maintain consistent practice about reviewing potential employee and employee profiles on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Never utilize the sites unless the candidate is under serious consideration for a job. If you seek information online, check online for each candidate who reaches a particular step in your hiring process. Do not discriminate by applying different standards to different applicants. Utilize the information you find to confirm that you have indeed selected a potentially good employee.
I do not recommend that you exclude a job candidate from consideration because of information you found online; that same information may confirm what you most feared about a candidate from other sources of information, however. So, use online information sparingly.
You may be interested to know that employers are all over the board about searching online for information about potential employees. This information will help: Do You Snoop Online on Prospective Employees? The percentage of employers checking online information will grow as online social media cement their place in the fabric of social networking and job searching. Are you prepared to react to and integrate the information you receive through online social media employee profiles and both personal and job references? It's past time.
Disclaimer – Please Note:
Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.
The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.