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When Web searches unearth digital dirt

Though a recent survey shows social media activity has little effect on hiring decisions, Oklahoma employers continue to caution Internet users to post only what they wouldn’t mind anyone seeing.
by Paula Burkes Modified: May 16, 2014 at 9:16 pm •  Published: May 18, 2014

Ever Google your name and find some less-than-flattering results?

While the top court in Europe ruled Tuesday that search engines there can be forced to erase links to content about individuals on the Web, survey results released the same day by a Chicago-based global outplacement firm show that, though most employers check candidates’ social media activity, applicants’ digital footprints have little effect on companies’ hiring decisions.

In a poll of 100 human resources executives by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., 60 percent said they always or sometimes ran Internet searches on applicants, but only 6 percent said results significantly impact hiring.

“If you eliminate every candidate with problematic Facebook or Twitter posts, you would quickly run out of candidates,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Still, Challenger advised individuals, especially new college graduates, “to consider your social media activity as an open book that will be factored into hiring decisions.”

Digital digging

Two Oklahoma employers, who’ve ruled out candidates because of social media activity, wholeheartedly echo that advice.

Andra Zwick ,of Oklahoma City-based Zwick & Associates staffing firm, several years ago had a client company decide against extending an offer to a woman for an administrative assistant job, after viewing a picture she’d posted on her Facebook page of herself scantily-clad on a motorcycle.

“She had a great resume, great skills and would’ve been amazing in the role,” Zwick said. “I don’t know if it was the picture that disqualified her, or the fact she’d hadn’t made her Facebook page private.”

These days, more clients check out candidates online before they interview them, Zwick said. Many will mention their intention of Googling someone, she said, while one client uses for more comprehensive searches, and Zwick herself often points clients to LinkedIn where they can view candidates’ references and posted work.

“Clients are trying to gain an understanding of who the candidate is, both professionally and personally, before making a very crucial hiring decision,” she said.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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New Oklahoma law offers employees, job applicants protection on private social media accounts

Oklahoma lawmakers on Friday passed legislation that will provide new privacy protections for employees and applicants who want to keep their social media accounts private.

House Bill 2372, authored by Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, and Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, is on its way to Gov. Mary Fallin’s office for signature.

“The law doesn’t apply to personal online accounts that are publicly available, but only to those personal online accounts that an employee or applicant has taken steps to keep private,” said Courtney Warmington, labor and employment attorney with Crowe & Dunlevy law firm.

It prohibits employers from requiring disclosure of user name and password information for personal online accounts of employees or applicants, Warmington said. It also makes it illegal for an employer to require an employee or applicant to access their account in an employer’s presence.

The federal Stored Communications Act already made it unlawful for anyone to access an electronic account without being an authorized user, Warmington said. Cases successfully have been brought against employers under the act for unauthorized access to all kinds of electronic communications from text messages to private, password-protected blogs, she said.

Nevertheless, at least 10 states previously passed similar legislation to Oklahoma’s and legislation has been introduced or is pending in some 26 additional states, Warmington said.

Oklahoma City human resources expert Gayla Sherry discourages employers and recruiters from consulting public social media sites before traditional screening methods.

Those who look at social profiles beforehand, she said, risk potential discrimination lawsuits from applicants who could claim they weren’t hired because of their race, gender, age and, possibly, national origin, religion or disability, which are all protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


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