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Behind the News -- EuropeCWS 30 September 2.18

CWS 30

If, as an employer, you use Facebook to check prospective applicants, think again. A pending law in Germany makes it illegal for companies to examine candidates on Facebook and other non-career focused social networks. Strangely enough, it's legal to "Google" them, although employers are told to disregard information that is too old or outside of a candidate's control. Social networks designed for professional purposes like LinkedIn and Xing (a local group) are legitimate resources to examine, says the German law.

The law was drafted by the Interior minister Thomas De Maiziere, but has not yet been passed by the German Parliament. Should it pass, its enforceability remains questionable. How can a company prove that it has not checked out a candidate on Facebook or any other social network? And as a Google search will bring up the public users of Facebook and other social network data, does Googling offset the Facebook ban? As Facebook users' status updates may be visible upon a Google search, an employer wouldn't have to click into Facebook in order to view it.

The law also prohibits companies from videotaping employees in personal locations such as bathrooms and changing rooms. Further, employers can't monitor telephone calls and email use even during business hours. Workers need to be informed if the company is going to monitor them.

In an age where personal information is free and easily available, people worry about violation of their privacy. But the stakes are higher than that, and include potential discrimination. Some legislators in France came up with the idea of the anonymous résumé to try to prevent worker discrimination. The concept was to strip résumés of anything that could suggest a person's racial, ethnic and national background or other information that could be used to discriminate -- name, age, sex, even residential postal code. But the idea never really took hold.
 
Germany, however, has very strong privacy laws. It remains to be seen whether the measure will pass and cause a ripple effect across all of Europe. But in the meantime, there are thorny issues to be debated and answered. Enforceability notwithstanding, checking out a candidate on any social media network involves that person's photograph, which makes the concept of an anonymous resume pointless. In the U.K., a company technically cannot undertake a background check without either stating it will be doing so in its job advertisement or in the application process. But, if an employer finds a candidate's profile via social media, it may have access to a significant amount background information.

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