The Fair Credit Reporting Act & social media: What businesses should know

You have some job openings at your company or maybe you’re thinking of promoting people to new positions. You’ve winnowed that stack of resumes down to some promising candidates. Now it’s nitty gritty time: background checks.

Employment background checks can include information from a variety of sources: credit reports, employment and salary history, criminal records — and these days, even social media.  But regardless of the type of information in a report you use when making hiring decisions, the rules are the same. Companies providing reports to employers and employers using reports must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The FTC staff recently looked at a company selling background reports that include information from social media to see if they were complying with FCRA.  Staff’s letter to the company emphasized that when reports include information derived from social media, the same rules apply.  For example, companies selling background reports must take reasonable steps to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of what’s reported from social networks and that it relates to the correct person.  They have to comply with other FCRA sections, too — like providing copies of reports to people and having a process in place if people dispute what’s said about them in a report.  In addition, companies must give employers who use their reports information about employers’ responsibilities under FCRA — like their obligation to provide employees or applicants with advance notice of any adverse action taken on the basis of the reports.

Another key requirement:  Companies selling background reports for employment must require that employers certify the report won’t be used in a way that would violate federal or state equal employment opportunity laws or regulations.

Of course, given the sensitive nature of the information in reports, everyone — companies selling the reports and employers using them — has a legal obligation to keep them secure and dispose of them properly.

Read Employment Background Checks and Credit Reports to find out more about what the law says about using credit reports in the workplace.


what about employers that don't use a 3rd party to conduct the social media background check? If an employer conducts an internal social media search, does the FCRA still apply?

Why would a page produced for the purpose of reducing a complicated legal requirement into an informative tidbit digestible by the layman use the term "winnowed"? I'm a rather well educated professional who happens to have a working knowledge of farming and I honestly thought this was a typo. I was able to deduce the intended meaning from the context in which it was used, but seriously, why? Usage of the word adds nothing to the ultimately goal, which is presumably to inform the public, and I would argue it is actually contrary to that goal.

That's an interesting point. After pondering this a bit, however, I notice that the word "winnowed" is not a legal term and was used only in the article's lead paragraph (which serves only to drive the reader toward the actual content of the article). To me, it's use doesn't complicate any description of the legal requirements under the FRCA. And, arguably, it actually helps people expand their vocabulary and be more effective contributors to society.

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