Barbie Shagwell, whips, and other social-media hiring red flags

November 28, 2011
By Eric B. Meyer on November 28, 2011 7:00 AM | | Comments
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Two weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas at the Advanced Employment Issues Symposium, presenting on using social media to make hiring decisions. If you would like to obtain a copy of my presentation, just head on over to our Facebook fan page, "like" us, and download it.

After the jump, I want to touch upon one of the hotter topics we discussed. That is, just what are those red flags that employers should be looking for should they choose to use social media to background-check job candidates?

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When a problem comes along, you must whip it!

(This subtitle will make sense in about 45 seconds. You'll see...)

Before I discuss the red flags, allow me to make a more fundamental point. Generally, employers are not required to incorporate social media into their background-check procedures. That decision is up to each company, and should be based on the needs of each position to be filled. Just remember, that if you do decide to use social media as part of the background check, and a third party conducts that check, you must abide by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This means, among other things, that you must obtain written consent from the candidate before you run that background check. Even if you run your own social-media background check, I'd get written sign-off from the candidate.

But I digress, let's talk red flags. Among those we discussed include:

    • drug references;
    • hate speech;
    • defamatory speech towards the company, its employees, or customers;
    • a high volume of Facebook status updates, which could signal a lack of productivity at work; and
    • sexually-explicit photos

Well, wouldn't you know, I get back from Vegas and read this story about Faye Bray, a British X-Factor contestant who claims that her employer sacked her after photos had been spotted on the singer's website of her posing provocatively while holding a whip. Faye Bray is also alleged to have worn see-through trousers, revealing a tattoo on her thigh, and and supposedly signed her emails "Barbie Shagwell". Ms. Bray is now suing her employer for sex discrimination.

I don't whether Ms. Bray's case has merit under British law. Although, I can almost assure you, that if this same set of circumstance arose on this side of the pond, the plaintiff would surely lose unless she could somehow show that her employer treated similarly-situated males more favorably. Bottom line: if your social-media background check turns up these goodies, you may want to take a pass. Unless you're hiring for a dominatrix.

What's on tap for tomorrow?

Tomorrow, I'll address how you can devise a social-media background check policy and procedure to cut down on -- and hopefully eliminate -- any chance of a viable discrimination claim.