Can I check a job applicant’s profile on Facebook before employing them?

You should be cautious about consulting a job applicant’s social media profile before recruiting them. It may appear to be a fast, free and simple way of gaining an insight into a candidate’s true character, particularly as the information is uncensored, but this type of check is not risk-free.

Data protection law applies to the processing of such information, which means that it should be obtained fairly and lawfully, says Lisa Patmore, partner for employment at law firm Lewis Silkin.

She says: “This includes informing applicants about any social media checks you intend to carry out so that they have the opportunity to amend and/or update any inaccurate information.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s data protection regulator, has indicated that such checks would constitute vetting, which it considers intrusive, so it recommends only relevant checks should be carried out.

Patmore warns: “An applicant’s social media page may include details of his or her race, disability, age, religion or belief, marital status or sexual orientation. These are all ‘protected characteristics’. An unsuccessful candidate might argue that they were rejected because of such a characteristic mentioned on their social media page and bring a discrimination complaint against you.”

It is probably best to limit checks to professional social media profiles, such as LinkedIn. Be cautious about checking profiles.