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Do You Care What a Job Applicant Posts on Social Media?

August 30, 2018

Posted in Business Start Ups, Employment Law

Do you care what a job candidate’s personal beliefs are? Do you think it’s appropriate to make employment decisions based on what you may find out about a job applicant on social media?

Increasingly as part of screening job applicants businesses are looking at social media posts. What could be damaging would depend on the potential employer.

  • Extreme political views, freely expressed bias against certain people, drug habits or excessive drinking may be enough to get the person crossed off the list for a potential interview.
  • For other employers the fact the person is a Republican or Democrat, homosexual or is recovering from a serious illness may be sufficient to take the person out of consideration.

When it comes to employment discrimination claims, for an employer ignorance is bliss. A claim by a job applicant that he wasn’t hired because of his protected basis (such as sexual orientation or religion) won’t last long if the plaintiff can’t establish you know what that protected basis is. Before social media existed the chances someone hiring would know a candidate’s sexual orientation or religion would be slim to none. But if you’re checking applicants’ social media posts and these characteristics come up, you can’t un-see what you saw.

If looking at social media posts will be part of your hiring process there are some things you can do, and avoid doing, that may limit the risk of a discrimination claim.

  • You could hire an outside firm to screen and evaluate job applicants. This way your knowledge of candidates’ protected bases (at least those that are obvious) is limited to those you actually interview.
  • If you’re doing the screening yourself you could delay the social media review until late in the process. If decisions on who not to call in for an interview are based just on resumes or job applications and there’s no information on protected bases, it would be hard to prove illegal bias caused the person not to be hired.
  • Any social media review needs to be the same for all candidates. Just doing this screening exercise for female or African American candidates or those you might think are Muslim, but not anyone else, would be discriminatory.

Using social media to screen candidates may not be a good idea, according to an article published by the Society for Human Resource Management.

  • More than half of hiring managers found information on social media that caused a job candidate not to be hired, according to a 2014 CareerBuilder survey. Many of the reasons given for not hiring the applicant were unrelated to the job.
  • In a 2013 national survey 31% of 212 respondents (half working in human resources) stated using social media for screening job applicants is unethical.
  • Many respondents were concerned about the accuracy of the information they found. Posts and photos could also be misunderstood or taken out of context.

You may get a lot of information about a person if you read their social media posts. But if you’re making hiring decisions, do the potential benefits of reviewing these posts outweigh the potential costs?

If you have any questions about your company’s hiring practices or employment law in general, contact our office. We can discuss what you want to do, how applicable laws have been interpreted and how to protect your legal rights and interests.