Screening Job Applicants through Social Media can be Risky for Business

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The explosion in social media use over the last decade has catalogued a treasure trove of easily accessible personal information online.  As it relates to screening job applicants, this information can sometimes contain harmless details regarding individuals, such as favorite sports teams, movies, or music, and otherwise useful information, such as confirmation of education and employment history, or expose recreational drug use.  Other times, however, information can be inadvertently accessed that reveals potentially problematic details about an applicant, such as religious preference, sexual orientation, union membership, pregnancy, race, or disability.

If your company is using social media to screen job applicants without taking steps to eliminate access to the latter types of information beforehand, it could be setting the stage for a discrimination claim.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a Carnegie Mellon University study aimed at understanding how certain information revealed by job applicants through social media may impact hiring decisions.  The research team submitted over 4,000 fabricated resumes to U.S. companies with posted job openings.  Each resume used one of four unique names intended to lead web searchers to corresponding Facebook profiles.  The corresponding Facebook profile identified each applicant as either Christian, Muslim, homosexual, or heterosexual.  Based upon the responses of employers nationwide, the study indicated applicants who were identified on Facebook as being Muslim received fewer callbacks than their Christian counterparts.  In the 10 most conservative states based on 2012 election data – Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming – the disparity reportedly increased significantly.  Researchers found homosexual and straight applicants fared nearly equally well in all states.

Although this study considered only a small sample, it seems to indicate at least some employers are improperly considering certain types of information obtained through social media – such as religion – when making hiring decisions.  The elimination of applicants based on religion or other protected classes, such as race or disability, is unlawful.  This is true even if the information is obtained through public sources made available by job applicants.

To avoid making this costly mistake, employers are urged to assess their online screening practices and implement limits on the types of information made available to those making hiring decisions.  For guidance on steps your company can take to eliminate these dangers, please contact any member of the KDDK Labor and Employment Law Practice Team.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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