Social media to become a federal employer search tool

The rise of social media may require the government to enlist it as a screening tool for new federal employees and those seeking security clearance.

Many people in the Dallas area may not give much thought to the way they use social media. Social media's increasing presence in the workplace, however, has made the federal government take a closer look at what their employees are posting on these sites during the day, and also how they employ social media in their hiring process.

Social media in the workplace

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently detailed the effect that social media has had upon U.S. law. The commission chair said that with the prevalence of social media comes many questions about dealing with workplace discrimination and harassment. Racial or discriminatory comments made on a personal device used at work or an office computer may get employees in trouble, as these remarks may possibly be considered harassment. There may even be legal ground for claims against co-workers' discriminatory social media posts, as was the case recently, when a racial harassment claim involving the federal sector was given the right to go forward.

Social media also has the potential to affect a company's hiring practices. Technologies such as social media are not prohibited under EEO laws so this allows their use to be interpreted differently. Applicants and employees are legally allowed to keep their usernames and passwords private in some states. The EEOC's primary concern is that because many job applicants have information, such as ethnicity and gender, on their social media profiles, this information has the capability to become discriminatory when used as a way to screen candidates. The EEOC recommends that social media checks be done by staff not associated with hiring departments for a neutral point of view.

Federal use of social media

The federal government has already taken steps toward screening their employees' social media accounts. According to The Washington Post, the steps to gain security clearances may possibly include social media screening as a regular part of a background check. A program is being considered by the Office of Personnel Management that will have the capability to search the internet for information about specific people. This means that the personal photographs and posts of federal employees could be available to the government during background checks if the program is approved.

The OPM is taking steps to ensure that employees' privacy is maintained during background checks. The acting director of the OPM has stated that their goal is to ensure all social media is screened in a way that is appropriate, yet effective. Federal employees may be asked to give their passwords to their employers or provide a list of online contacts.

Those who think they may have been passed over for a position, or been terminated from a previous one, because of their social media account, may want to consider consulting an attorney. An attorney can help them understand their options in this emerging area of claims.