German employers set for new Facebook snooping law

A new law banning companies from using social networking sites like Facebook to vet potential new employees is being mulled over by the German Government, reigniting the debate on whether or not employers should snoop on employees’ private lives.

The German cabinet has endorsed the new legislation, which makes it illegal for firms to film employees and bans them from using private social media activity to vet future recruits, but it has yet to pass through parliament.

Under the proposals, online checks would not be completely out of bounds as employers could still conduct searches on applicants and reportedly be allowed to draw on any information in the public domain, including postings on professional networks such as LinkedIn.

German interior minister Thomas de Maiziére is quoted as saying: “Private social networks are private social networks and not gateways to gaining information on job applicants.”

A survey last year found that a quarter of employers worldwide are checking social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace for information about job candidates. The study by talent management consultancy DDI estimated that 12% of UK employers were checking out candidate profiles or photos before deciding whether or not to interview them.

Michael Rendell, head of HR services at professional service firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “Employers in any jurisdiction need to tread carefully to avoid accusations of snooping on staff. While in some instances there may be legitimate reasons for accessing information, it will always be hard for firms to argue that they have not been unduly influenced by information obtained.

“Even awareness of basic data such as age and marital status could prompt accusations of discrimination against prospective employees.”

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