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Clean up your Facebook profile or you won't get hired

11 February 2015, 09:12 Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town - Before you apply for that new job, be sure to check that your Facebook profile is clear of offensive content, or seriously consider your privacy settings.

Job applicants are often subject to scrutiny as employers weigh the cost of hiring someone with a potentially negative personality fit within the existing company culture.

A few employers or recruiters often check a prospective employee's Facebook profile, but they are limited in terms of what information they can glean.

"An employer would be allowed to look at an employee (or prospective employee's) Facebook profile at arm's length as their privacy settings determine the type of information that exists about them in the public domain," specialist technology attorney Russel Luck told Fin24.

Whatever you choose to share on social networks that can be seen publically, will likely be seen by prospective, or even current employers.

Damaging utterances

The competitive nature of employment means that recruiters often use the internet in addition to other sources as a way of evaluating the suitability of potential employees.

But it is unlikely that you'll ever discover if you've been denied a job for which you qualified, based on your utterances on social media.

"In practice, employers seldom disclose to employees why they were not selected for a particular position. A candidate has the right to equality which includes the right not to be discriminated against 'unfairly'.

"If they can show that they were not employed based on 'unfair discrimination' (rather than 'fair discrimination') then they would be entitled to legal recourse," said Luck.

Employees should exercise caution in posting on Facebook if they want protect themselves from dismissal. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Beyond making potentially damaging utterances on social media, employees also face the prospect of unknown risks from joining groups on Facebook that employers may find offensive because of a political outlook.

A company, for example, which acts as a service provider to a large South African retailer may take a dim view of workers who join groups that oppose or make damaging statements against the client.

"There is no official legal position that deals with joining Facebook groups. Naturally, observers might make value judgements based on the groups that a particular user joins. This would be a social issue not a legal concern," said Luck.

However, he said that legal relationship between an employer and employee was based on good faith.

"An employee-employer relationship is based on 'uberrima fides' the utmost good faith. Where the trust relationship is broken, the employee may be dismissed. If the dismissal was found to be wrongful, the employee cannot ask for their job back and force the employer to re-employ them. They can get the employer to pay damages to them."

Facebook log-in details

In many organisations, it has become practice that employees join Facebook groups to ease work flow. However, while your Facebook profile is ostensibly private, by joining groups, it is likely that colleagues will be exposed to your views beyond work.

"Anything that the employee chooses to share with Facebook users at large (not necessarily friends of that employee) would legitimately be accessible to anyone including employers. However, an employer would not be allowed to access an employee’s private Facebook account as doing so would be unduly invasive and infringe amongst others, that employee's right to privacy," said Luck.

Reports that recruiters in the US are demanding job applicants' Facebook log-in details before considering them for positions would conflict with the social network's terms of use.

Social media log-in details should not be shared with employment recruiters. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

"You will not solicit log-in information or access an account belonging to someone else," says Facebook in its Terms of Service.

Notwithstanding that, some countries have proposed legislation that goes further to protect against unscrupulous employment practices.

"In Germany, a bill has been tabled in parliament which prevents an employer from using social media to unduly influence the employment process. Employers are allowed to Google-search their employees and see what information is generated," said Luck.

"However they may not click on links which contain that employee's social media profile. It has yet to be seen if the bill is enacted and enforced in Germany. Even if the bill was enacted practical enforcement would be a huge challenge as it is difficult to control how people access information posted on the internet."

He added that despite the provisions of the Protection of Information Act, no similar legislation on employer snooping was proposed in SA.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

- Finance24


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