May 5, 2021

Everyone wants to make a great first impression in front of a potential boss. From polishing your CV to rehearsing all the ‘where do you want to be in five years’ and ‘what are your strengths/weaknesses’ interview questions – a lot of preparation goes into finding a new role.

There’s one area, though, that potential employees may have overlooked, and that’s their online presence. As social media is such a hugely important part of everyday life now, it’s understandable that employers want to take a peek behind the mask and see what you’re really like when you let your guard down. Checking your Facebook and Instagram accounts is an easy way to do this. But do they have that right? Is it legal for potential employers to check you out online?

Access all areas

The short answer is yes. Employers know that they’re far more likely to find out about a potential hire by browsing their social media content. From TikTok dance challenges to extreme political views, everything is on display for all to see. This information is categorised as ‘in the public domain’, so a potential employer is well within their rights to google you and have a look at your digital footprint. So it’s important to think about what you’ve shared online, and if it’s not something you’d like a future employer to see (particularly with no context) then either deleting or updating your privacy settings may be a good idea.

Protected characteristics

However, while a potential (and current) employer may have every right to take a look at the online you, they don’t have the right to discriminate against you unfairly due to what is known as particular ‘protected characteristics’ and this still applies if they discover this information through your social media profiles.

So, for example, if you don’t mention that you are a transgender person, are gay or of a particular ethnic or religious group during your interview process, and your potential employer finds out those details through your online status and then makes a negative decision based on that information then you may be able to challenge their decision in law. This also applies to age, gender, whether you’re pregnant, your marital status, or if you’re disabled.

Social media policies

Due to the prevalence of social media at almost every level of society, firms have moved with the times to develop their own social media policies. These often state that an employee can be disciplined or even dismissed from their position if their online activity could be seen as inappropriate or potentially detrimental to the business.

But what exactly does that mean? Surely what you say and do when you’re not at work is your affair? Well, again we come back to that ‘public domain’ issue. If you’ve had a row with your boss, go home, and moan to your partner then that is entirely your business. But if you then go online and tell all your friends and Twitter followers about the problems you’re having with your employer (and especially if you put it in such a way that it is easy to identify who that boss is), then that’s a different matter. A potentially defamatory statement may have been typed in the heat of the moment, but once it’s out there for anyone to read, you could find that it very quickly gets back to your boss that you’ve been rude, abusive or even threatening to them online. This would contravene any social media policy and you could possibly be looking at instant dismissal.  

It also doesn’t look too good to potential employers if they go online and see you bad-mouthing your current boss – after all, what might you say about them? It all of this means your CV will end up on the ‘No’ pile very quickly.

Talk to the experts If you’ve been turned down for a position based on your online presence and you think the decision has been based on a protected characteristic such as your sexuality, age, or disability then you have every right to talk to an employment law expert to see what your next step could be. Get in touch with our team today on: enquiries@terry-jones.co.uk

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