Monthly Archives: July 2011

Didn’t Get Hired? Check Your Facebook Page

There was an article in the New York Times last week about a start-up company called Social Intelligence, which exists for the sole purpose of running “social media background checks” on job applicants. The company sorts through everything on the Internet about an applicant for the last seven years, eventually creating a dossier not only of honors, charity work, and other good deeds, but also of racist comments, sexually explicit material, drug references, and weapons displays.

In case you’re wondering why employers need to outsource Internet searches, one of the answers is plausible deniability. As the article points out, these searches can yield plenty of information that employers are legally prohibited from considering in making job decisions. Perhaps an applicant is a frequent poster to a forum for women undergoing fertility treatment, immigrants from the Sudan, or Jews for Jesus. Maybe the applicant belongs to a Facebook group for parents of children with autism. Or, the applicant might have a blog recording her gender transition from male to female (off-limits as a basis for employment decisions in many states). Having a go-between collect the data and hand over only what the employer is legally entitled to consider creates a legal buffer zone.

I wasn’t surprised to see this type of company profiled in the Times, nor to see some of the things applicants have been rejected for (naked pictures, racist rants, photos of the applicant posed next to marijuana plants, or searches for oxycontin on Craigslist). Here’s what surprised me: One of the people interviewed, an EEOC employee, said that 75% of recruiters reported that the companies they hired for required them to research applicants online — and 70% reported rejecting applicants because of what they found on the Internet.

Proposed NLRB Rules to Speed Up Elections

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal government agency that interprets and enforces the nation’s labor relations laws, has proposed new regulations on procedures for holding representation elections. A representation election is held to determine whether a group of employees wants a particular union to represent them in dealing with company management.

Some of these changes simply bring the agency up to technological speed or otherwise streamline the process. For example, the proposed rules would allow parties to file documents with the NLRB electronically, and would ensure that the parties receive certain basic information and forms when an election petition is filed. The proposal would also bring together all of the NLRB’s regulations on elections in one place, to minimize confusion and possible contradictions. These proposed changes haven’t met with any resistance.

However, a number of the changes would speed up the election process, both by shortening the period between when an election petition is filed and when the election is actually held, and by eliminating or postponing certain procedures and challenges until the election is over. These proposals have been very controversial, in part because they shorten the time during which employers can try to defeat an organization campaign. Union advocates claim that employers have used this window (between the filing of a petition and the actual election) to intimidate employees into opposing the union; employer advocates counter that the more employees learn about unions, the more likely they are to vote against representation. Whether this time is used for legitimate communication or unfair tactics, both sides agree that speeding up the election process will benefit unions, not employers.

Perhaps that’s why the Republican Congress is getting in on the act: Last week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on the proposed regulations. In case you’re wondering how the party in the majority feels about the proposed rules, the title of the hearing kind of gives it away: It was called “Rushing Union Elections: Protecting the Interests of Big Labor at the Expense of Workers’ Free Choice.