Labor: Using Internet Searches for Reference Checking

In my last column, discussing some lessons to be learned from the resignation of HP CEO Mark Hurd, I suggested that following standard hiring or contracting procedures in which the background and references of Jodie Fisher, the woman who charged Hurd with sexual harassment, would have been checked might have helped HP avoid the entire mess. After all, a simple Google search would have uncovered the facts that (1) Ms. Fisher had appeared in racy movies in the 1980s that the tabloids could call pornographic, and (2) around the time she began her work for HP, she was a contestant on an NBC reality show featuring an Australian tennis star would choose as a companion either a 20-something contestant or a woman in her 40s who was "on the prowl." Ms. Fisher competed in the latter category and was the first to be kicked off. Those might not be disqualifiers for most jobs, but basing an employment decision on one of them probably wouldn't have been unlawful, and it may well have been appropriate for someone at HP to conclude she wouldn't be a wise hire for a position involving close contact with the CEO and "high level customers."

But other facts that might turn up in Google searches of job applicants could well be less titillating but more problematic. For that reason, corporate counsel might want to review the issues discussed here and caution those responsible for corporate hiring to give some thought to the issue before they adopt a rule that no one will be hired without first being Googled.

Christopher H. Mills

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