Job Hunt

Privacy and the Modern-Day Job Hunt

Employees and employers must tread more carefully than ever.

5 min read

Not long ago, it was completely normal for an employer to ask a job candidate for his or her salary history. Today, asking that question could result in a fine up to $250,000. 

Indeed, 10 states and eight cities including San Francisco and New York City have not only banned employers from asking job applicants about their previous salaries, but restricted the ability to consult with previous employers and public records for that information. The move is designed to curb wage discrimination; if employers can’t know what a candidate has earned, they won’t be tempted to perpetuate an existing pay gap.

“Employers could be slapped with anti-discrimination lawsuits if they use social media to make hiring decisions.”

With nearly half of all states considering similar legislation, the salary information ban is just one of many sweeping trends in privacy affecting job seekers and employers today. The deluge of job-searching technology (where it’s common to upload a resume with a slew of personal details onto mass job-market websites) and shifting workplace demands (in which an increasing number of employers are using contractors instead of full-time workers) has ushered in new norms when it comes to privacy in the job search. What’s more, a tight labor market is putting more pressure on companies to speed up the hiring process before other firms scoop up talent. That has given job candidates a leg up in terms of less training and hiring hurdles to jump, but has also created a quandary as to how much information they should provide to potential employers. Here are the new realities for employers and job candidates.

Employers are ditching drug testing.

In a labor market where unemployment is at 4%—the lowest it’s been in years—employers are desperate to lure talent, causing them to lower some of their vetting policies. One of the ways they’re doing that is by changing their policies on pre-employment drug testing. “I’ve seen a lot of my clients loosen up when it comes to drug testing,” says Kate Bischoff, an employment attorney with tHRive Law & Consulting. “They’re saying, ‘We need help; if drug screening is keeping people out, let’s not do drug screening.’” Occupations in healthcare and pharmaceuticals are some of the main industries in which drug policies are changing, experts say.

The legalization of marijuana in more than nine states and Washington, D.C., has also played a role in this trend. In Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2014, 62% of businesses test for drugs, down from 77% in 2014, according to a survey of 600 employers by the Employers Council.

‘Ban the box’ is still evolving.

Nearly three-quarters of the United States population lives in a jurisdiction that has enacted some kind of “ban the box” legislation, which limits an employer’s ability to inquire about a job candidate’s criminal record on a job application. But experts say the tight labor market may encourage more states and cities to adopt or revisit these laws. Massachusetts, for example, was one of the first states to enact “ban the box” legislation eight years ago. This October, an amended version of that law will give job seekers an even fairer shake, because employers in the state will only be able to ask about misdemeanor convictions that occurred within the last three years, instead of five. They also won’t be able to inquire about a criminal record that has been sealed or expunged.

Contingent workers are under the microscope.

It used to be that hiring a contract worker wasn’t as labor intensive as hiring a full-time employee. But the rise of the gig economy has changed that: In 2016, 81% of employers said they performed background checks on their contingent workers, up from just 48% in 2011, according to a survey by Hi reRight. And as more companies look to hire contractors, they will have to ask themselves tough questions about what’s necessary for the safety of their business. “It ultimately depends on what the contingent worker is doing for you,” says Bischoff. “For example, if they’re on site every day with you and your employees, background screening might be a good avenue for you. If they’re working from their own home or office, it may not be necessary.”

Social-media snooping is common, but murky.

By now it’s a given that hiring managers can use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social network to look someone up—which is all the more reason people need to exercise caution about what they post on the Internet. Even still, experts say it’s just as important for employers to realize that they may open themselves up to anti-discrimination lawsuits if they use social media to make hiring decisions on factors such as age, race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation. 

“Social media is a minefield of protected information, so it’s not worth the risk to jeopardize compliance by playing with the limitations of hiring legislation,” writes Dan D eibler, HR coordinator at Gateway Learning Group.

Another potential social-media privacy issue: Job seekers now use social media to look for jobs, and they don’t want their intentions broadcast to their networks. A recent survey by Indeed found that 66% of job seekers in the US are concerned about others finding out that they’re looking for a new position. To be stealthy, experts advise job seekers to make use of privacy controls so people in their network aren’t alerted every time you update your profile. “On your LinkedIn profile, don’t specifically state that you’re looking but what your future goals are,” says David Ginchansky, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. “The best profiles are where someone shows off their past, present, and future.”

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