The Department of Transport became the latest in a long list of employers recently to announce that all new employees will have their social media feeds screened as part of the standard pre-employment checking process. Capita, the external agency which will be conducting the checks, will be working across the government transport agencies, including the DVLA and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Baseline Personnel Security Standard – BPSS
All staff applying for a government position with the Department of Transport will need to have a Baseline Personnel Security Standard Check, or BPSS. This is the standard screening for anyone wishing to work in the government or civil service and considers factors such as the Right to Work in the UK and nationality, immigration status, employment and qualification checking, and a check on someone’s current criminal record similar to a Basic Disclosure Check. For specific vacancies, especially those based in sensitive locations such as airports, or at a high level of responsibility additional security vetting might be required. This could include a counter-terrorism check, or questioning about close family members and partners. The level of checking required will usually be clearly stated on any vacancy notice.
Potential Risk Areas
Capita, the agency who will be carrying out the screening on behalf of the government, state that they are looking for anything in someone’s social media feeds which could give rise to a potential risk. This information will be considered along with the results of all of the rest of the vetting to decide whether an individual is a suitable employee. Workers will usually not be told the reasons why they have failed vetting and will just receive the standard rejection letter from the organisation they have applied to.
The Department of Transport do not give examples of the sorts of content which could be classed as a potential risk. However, it is likely that they will be looking for things such as membership of groups which could be considered extremist online, following, liking, or commenting on extremist content, discussion of criminal behaviour or homophobic, racist or sexist language. It is likely that any content of this sort will be screenshotted as evidence and considered when an employment decision is made.
Social Media Guidelines
In common with most large employers, the government has issued guidance for civil servants over their use of social media, even in a personal context. The guidance stresses that officials should take care over the accuracy of what they are posting, especially if it is clear from their profile that they are a government employee. Many companies will also have a clause in employment contracts about bringing a company into disrepute, and workers have been fired in the past for taking to social media to complain about their boss, organisation, or colleagues. There have been many high-profile cases of celebrities and other people in the public eye having Tweets or Facebook pages from years in the past dragged up, so remember that once something is published on the internet, it might be around forever.