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Is it OK to Google a job candidate to check their background?

Recruiters will often warn a candidate that their interviewer may Google before meeting them but in a world where privacy is an ever-increasing issue and remote recruitment is becoming the new post coronavirus normal, how much online searching is acceptable?

One of the most obvious checks might be via LinkedIn, where a potential employer can quickly check whether the job history on your CV matches up to your profile. As this is a business-related social media platform, most candidates would have little cause to complain. However, when it comes to taking a look at their Facebook or Instagram profile, which might give an insight into the more personal side of their lives, things become a little bit more controversial.

Googling an applicant can throw up all sorts of information relating to age, gender, ethnicity and beliefs. You might discover that they are involved in certain political or religious groups or that they have been the subject of a court case that has been reported on. Online  searches and blanket checks carried out before an interview has even taken place will put you in dangerous territory, both in terms of privacy and potential discrimination.

Once a candidate has been interviewed and you are considering making an offer of employment, you may be justified in carrying out certain relevant checks. An eye test or review of the applicant’s driving history and endorsements might be needed for insurance purposes if the role involves driving, for example.

Most checks can only be requested if they are pertinent to the job or form a condition of employment. A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check will be a requirement for anyone working in healthcare or childcare. It is against the law to refuse employment because of convictions that are spent (in other words, the sentence has been served). Some convictions (such as those with a sentence more than four years long) are never considered spent and a candidate must share details of these if asked by a potential employer. Candidates are not obliged to share information about most crimes they have committed in the past if they are spent.

You must ensure that any checks you make do not lead to discrimination and do not discourage certain people from applying for the job. Discrimination during the recruitment process can lead to prosecution.