I was recently having a discussion around the use of Facebook as a tool for recruiting staff. “What a good thing it is,” they said “our friend recently avoided hiring someone who was boasting about stealing cars.”

Er, no. They probably didn’t.

Ok, so half the UK population use Facebook. So given that it’s more prevalent in people of working age (under 13s aren’t even allowed to join, for a start), let’s presume that 75% of people that apply for a job at your company will have a Facebook account.

So… let’s assume this isn’t a fairly common name, then. Take my name, for example. According to howmanyofme.com there isn’t that many in the US. But in the UK? Well, start with Sir Simon – he’s the British Ambassador to Iraq at the moment. (I’m not – don’t send me email applying for diplomatic posts please, I don’t know his email address to forward them.) I also used to know another who was aiming to have every Simon Collis in the world as a Facebook friend (there’s a TV show in that idea, surely?) and he – confusingly – had over 28 friends all called… yeah, you guessed it.

So how can you be sure you’ve got the right one?

Well, you can ask them for their Facebook URL… can’t you?

Er, maybe not.

In fact, checking them out on Facebook might not be a good idea AT ALL. Even if you’ve got the right one, you could still be sued for discrimination.

You see, there’s a few questions you’re not allowed to ask before you hire someone, and those include:

  • What religion do you practice?
  • How old are you?
  • What’s your native language?
  • Do you have kids?

Go look at someone’s Facebook page and see how easy those are to find out. Oh wait – look, there they are – right on the front page.

So if ever you’re taken to court for potential discrimination, and you’ve looked at their Facebook page – you just lost.

If you’re a small business, that sort of case could be terminally damaging. You’re playing Russian Roulette with your livelihood every time you check someone’s Facebook page – providing you even find the right person. (Exercise for the reader: go find me on Facebook. Unless you’re already my Facebook friend, you’ll find the wrong person, I guarantee you.)

So what’s the lesson here?

It’s simple.

Don’t take the risk. While Facebook might seem a nice, easy way of background checking your employees, it’s a timebomb that threatens at least your career, if not your whole business. Don’t do it.