By STEVE TUCKEY, who has written on insurance issues for a decade for several national media outlets
No employment decision has gained as much notoriety in recent years as that of the recent abrupt firing of Shirley Sherrod. The top U.S. Department of Agriculture official had to pull off to the side of the road to e-mail her resignation as a result of the firestorm of publicity surrounding a YouTube clip from a speech she made earlier in the year.
We all know how that turned out. You can't get much more egregious in a decision than one that results in the President of the United States telling the ladies of The View what a fiasco it was.
Now not hiring someone because of misleading information is a lot less serious than firing someone. But the principle remains the same. The full airing of Ms. Sherrod's remarks showed how she moved beyond her seeming bias against white people to an understanding that the real struggle in the world today is the haves vs. the have-nots. How much online data today, said to be the basis of many a hiring decision, is equally spurious?
It is understandable that insurance carriers and agencies would pull out all the stops in that effort to find just the right fit.
After all, with that Mr. or Ms. Perfect the carrier or agency will gain years of productive and profitable service, while the wrong one will produce what the Supremes once warbled about--nothing but heartache. But when the stops go beyond traditional reference checks and interviews to include materials that can be as flimsy and unreliable as the now notorious Sherrod video, then something has gone terribly wrong.
As a relatively new phenomenon, no court has ruled on the issue of the use of social network sites in employment or personnel decisions. Still somewhere along the line should basic human decency not count for something?
Sooner or later the issue will be joined. A recent survey by Microsoft indicated that 84 percent of U.S. employers of U.S. recruiters think it is all right to use social networking sites, personal websites and blogs and the like in evaluation of job candidates.
But just how reliable are these sources?
Recruiters have been known to reject candidates based on comments from friends, family and colleagues. Gossip may be fine for dissecting the lives of celebrities, but to stake people's economic livelihoods on such flim-flam seems to go beyond the pale of what is right.
Minneapolis-based staffing expert Raghav Singh has noted that services have now sprung up offering to clean up people's online reputations with tricks such as information campaigns and the creation of websites and links that ensure they come to the top of Google searches. "What is going to stop candidates from creating largely online fake personas when they know that recruiters put so much weight on information they found online," he asked. What is there indeed?
For more than a decade the personal lines insurance industry has argued passionately that a person's credit history is a good indicator of potential insurance loss experience. But few questions have arisen as to the validity of the data itself used in these calculations. The same cannot be said of the increasingly questionable online data that some companies claim will indicate future job performance. Shouldn't carriers and brokers looking to fill positions require the same rigorous standards of data that is demanded of them in making underwriting decisions? This is just one of those times when doing the right thing can also be the most productive and profitable thing.
(Read Managing Editor Cyril Tuohy's Point, "The Time Has Come to Link up, Tune in and Face It"
October 1, 2010
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