The recent EU ruling that individuals have the “right to be forgotten” could have interesting implications for the ways in which organisations screen candidates, according to some employers.
In May the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that a Spanish citizen had the legal right to ask internet giant Google to remove links to pages about him from its search results. According to the search engine company, users can now request that search results are removed when they are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed”.
As news has emerged that requests are rolling in via Google’s online form for results to be removed, some employers have suggested that the ruling could make it tougher for them to carry out background checks on candidates applying for their roles.
Ann Bevitt, partner at legal firm Morrison and Foerster, writes in Personnel Today that employers have been using Google searches as a helpful way of gathering more information on candidates. They may have been using it for everything from checking up on claims made in CVs to gathering an impression of the candidate's character and views as expressed on social media.
It’s a practice which poses some legal risks, she acknowledges, but which can really help to find out which candidates have the right fit for an organisation. If candidates can ask for links to information about them to be taken down, they can effectively filter what recruiters see. That will impact on the quality of background checking.
Even so, employers would rarely if ever use Google in isolation and there will be other ways for them to conduct due diligence on candidates. In fact, HR Review suggests that the ruling might even be a positive for employers – by encouraging them to focus on what is really relevant, such as skills, qualifications and experience, it argues that removing links to irrelevant information might encourage better decision-making.
Guidelines published late last year by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said that it was vital for employers to carry out checks on potential new employees. However, they also said that privacy is a concern and recruiters should ask for permission from applicants before they research them. What’s more, applicants should have the chance to respond to anything which comes up as a result of the checks.
To make sure they are only looking at relevant information, CIPD also warned employers that they have to distinguish between social media set up for professional and personal reasons – in practice, this would mean looking at sites like LinkedIn but avoiding Facebook. In itself, that means that candidates have plenty of opportunities to put themselves in the best light online for prospective employers.
“Employers have a right to check candidates’ online profiles, but they shouldn’t go on fishing expeditions to find out details about their private lives,” said Mike Emmott, employment law adviser at CIPD.
“They need to ask, is this information strictly relevant to the job the candidate is applying for?”
Recruitment is changing, and channels such as LinkedIn are gaining more and more importance as means of finding career opportunities. For candidates, cultivating the best possible online profile where it matters is likely to be more important than having other information removed.