In August, as part of the draft law governing workplace privacy, the German government proposed placing restrictions on employers who wish to vet prospective employees through social networking sites such as Facebook.

The rapid growth of social networking sites has lead to a blurring of the traditional boundaries between an individual’s professional and private personae. Although people are becoming more aware in recent times of privacy rights, privacy risks are increasing as individuals continue to post personal information on social networking sites without considering the electronic legacy that they leave behind. Such data can potentially be picked up by a prospective employer and used as a method of screening prospective employees, albeit in most cases without the candidates’ knowledge.

The German bill proposes to allow employers to search for publicly accessible information regarding candidates on the Web and to view professional networking sites such as LinkedIn or Xing. However purely social networking sites are off limits. With no rules currently governing how companies use Facebook and other social network site data, the purpose of this proposal is to create guidelines for employers to follow as cases concerning social networking are likely to become more common in the coming years.

Employers in Ireland should be aware that whilst a potential employer cannot be prevented from accessing such sites, denying employment on the basis of the content of such sites could potentially give rise to allegations and claims of discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2007. Unsuccessful candidates may potentially allege that they have been discriminated against on grounds such as family status, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc where job offers are suddenly withdrawn without a reasonable explanation.