Social Networking Can Bite Employer, Too

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We've all heard of job candidates done in by some compromising tidbit in their Facebook profile. Well, here's the flip side: At least one retail bank, fearing discrimination lawsuits by spurned applicants, has ordered its entire staff, HR department, and even the external recruiters it uses, to avoid sourcing any information about candidates from social networking sites.

The outside employment lawyer for Amegy Bank of Texas, a 2,000-employee subsidiary of Zions Bancorporation, concluded the employer could never prove it had rejected an applicant based on permissible information (sexually suggestive photos, boasts about deceiving a customer or a boss), if the applicant's profile also included information that isn't legal grounds for rejection, such as being pregnant.

As a result, "Amegy adopted the following policy toward using social networking sites in the hiring process: Such sites are strictly off limits -- no if, ands or buts," reports Law.com's In-House Counsel Web site.

The bank is also instructing its external recruiters that social networking sites are "totally off limits when it comes to staffing matters."

The policy isn't based on past case law, but on "old-fashioned common sense" and management's desire to avoid any risk of litigation or damage to its reputation among employees and customers. "One of my favorite sayings is, 'How your staff feels is eventually how your customers will feel' -- if they feel respected and treated fairly, they'll tell customers," Amegy Chief Executive Paul B. Murphy, Jr., told the publication. He's also concerned that in the current economic climate rejected applicants are more likely to consider suing, because they have fewer attractive alternatives.

Amegy also is starting to examine whether to use professional networking sites such as LinkedIn to source candidates. The company does use job boards, but employee referral is its preferred method of recruitment.

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