Saturday, September 10, 2011

Web 2.0 in the Workplace: Recruitment

As a job applicant, I give my potential employer the information I want them to have, and only the information I want them to have.  My resume, which plays up my strengths in relation to the position I'm applying for.  My cover letter, which sells me to the employer.  Reference letters on request, from the employers who most loved me in the past.  And then I show up for the interview with a tidy haircut and a nice suit, ready to turn on my best shine for the recruiters.

That's the game.  We all know it.  Especially recruiters.  So it has come into vogue for tech savvy recruiters to search the internet for information regarding potential employees, to try to find out what they aren't being told.  They check facebook, they google the name, and what they find can influence their decision.  If they find dirt - party photos, vulgar posts and comments, evidence of immature and unprofessional behaviour - then this can factor into the decision-making progress.

So job-seekers need to manage their online images.  Pay attention to facebook privacy settings.  But even that isn't enough:  To be really safe, you need to take down any compromising information, and un-tag yourself from any photos others may have posted.  Ask yourself, "Is this something I would be comfortable putting on my resume?"  If the answer is no, remove it from the internet, to the extent you can.  In fact, once something is online, it is there forever to a skilful enough searcher, so people are well-advised to exercise caution in what they're putting online in the first place.

Similarly, tasteful photographs of outings with friends, conservative vacation photos, images of you at Vimy Ridge or meeting the Dalai Lama, or playing in your casual hockey league...these are usually going to be posts you want recruiters to see.  Because they don't just look online to rule out candidates; they're looking online to try to find positive information, too.  Showing that you are an interesting person with interesting hobbies is something that will usually make you more attractive as a candidate.  Having a life, involving responsible fun, is seldom regarded as a bad thing.

I had one classmate in law school who, whenever job-hunting time rolled around, changed his facebook profile photo to text to the effect of "Dear law firm recruiters, please hire me."  Cheeky.  But clever.

Recruiters take heed, though, of the dangers inherent in these searches:  You may get information that you don't need, that you don't want, and that you are legally prohibited from using in coming to a decision.  Be cognizant of the Human Rights Code.

Under most circumstances, the Code prevents recruiters from asking certain questions of candidates, relating to prohibited Code grounds.  Mind you, not everyone abides by these rules, even by lawyers and HR Professionals who should know better.  I was once contacted by a professional headhunter for a law firm whose first three questions were my age, marital status, and family status - questions which were echoed several times by the firm's partners.  Suffice it to say that, though I received an offer from the firm in question, I declined it.  I once heard an anecdote from a law clerk about interviewing with a lawyer who asked her if she had any plans to get pregnant in the near future.  Or sometimes, a recruiter will raise a prohibited ground just in the way of small talk - for many parents, it becomes natural to talk about their kids and ask others, "Do you have any children?"

These questions, in and of themselves, are illegal.  It isn't just that you can't make a decision based on these factors, though that's true too.  You can't even ask.  And the reason for that is to protect unsuccessful candidates from the potential dispute about whether or not the reason they weren't hired related to their answer to those questions.

Of course, that protection isn't universal.  A candidate comes to an interview, and it is immediately a simple matter of determining, with some margin of error, their age, race, and marital status.  But there are many other things that you don't know about.  Religious beliefs.  Mental illness or other non-obvious disabilities.  Or, similarly, though based in the Labour Relations Act instead, union affiliations.  And the more you know, the more exposed you are to allegations that you discriminated on the basis of a prohibited ground.  If the candidate can convince a Tribunal that even a part of the reason for not hiring them was related to a prohibited ground, significant liabilities can result.

The risk may not be significant in every case, but it's something to be careful about.  Larger organizations might consider tasking a Human Resources Assistant, with no role in the decision-making process, with conducting the internet searches and redacting materials related to prohibited grounds, before giving the remainder to the decision-makers.


This blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.

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