The Law Society of England & Wales has warned that employers should avoid using social networking sites including Facebook and Myspace to vet job candidates as it could leave them vulnerable to discrimination claims.
 
John Morris, chair of the Society’s Employment Law Committee says “Using these sites to canvass more information about an employee or an interview candidate is potentially risky for an employer. For example, it is possible to obtain information about a person’s sexual orientation or religious beliefs that can impact or is perceived to impact on the decision made to recruit or not recruit that person – this can lead to discrimination claims.”
 
The Employment Practices Data Protection Code states that an employer should only use vetting where there are particular and significant risks involved to the employer, clients, customers or others, such as working with children or vulnerable people. However employers should not place reliance on information collected from social networking sites as it is potentially unreliable.
 
Employees should also be aware of potential problems from ‘befriending’ their employers on these sites and should choose to have their webpage on a privacy setting where possible. “The dismissal of employees for comments made about employers on social networking sites can also lead to unfair dismissal claims,” adds Morris. “However, an employer may be able to defend themselves against such a claim if they can show the dismissal was a reasonable response to the conduct of the employee.”
 
Earlier this year a British woman was sacked from her job after she posted an expletive-filled tirade against her boss on Facebook. Previously, thirteen cabin crew from a major British airline faced disciplinary action after calling passengers ‘chavs’ on a social networking site. Recently, a sixteen year old in a new job posted messages about how “dull” and “boring” it was, while a young man who, having posted details of his previous night’s activities, went on to explain that he was today “pulling a sickie” from work. Both were dismissed.