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Potential for Employment Discrimination Through Social Media Searches


In this modern day of the internet and social media, some employers have found ways to discriminate even before an application has fully been reviewed. According to a recent study, a substantial number of employers search social media and the internet to find out as much as they can about applicants at the early stages of the hiring process.

Study suggests employers go online to review applicants’ personal information

A recent study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University involved fake resumes associated with fake social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Applications were sent in response to technical, managerial, and analyst position postings. The associated social media profiles had privacy settings consistent with the average user.

The study showed that more than one-third of employers in the United States admit that they review social media sites before making a final job offer. Unfortunately, many of those employers do not limit their search to unprofessional behavior, embarrassing photos, and offensive language.

Using social media information to discriminate

Employment discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy or parenthood, as well as many other protected categories, is illegal in the United States, pursuant to several federal anti-discrimination laws. Unfortunately, discrimination in the hiring process, especially through social media, can be subconscious. In other words, some employers may be basing their decisions on discriminatory bias without realizing it.

As the Carnegie Mellon study showed, 17% of Christian “applicants” were called back, whereas Muslims were only called for interviews 2% of the time. An employer could look at an applicant’s social media site and see a sonogram and decide not to give that person a call-back because she’s pregnant and will later need to take maternity leave.

What should you do if you have a substantial social media presence?

The question becomes what do job applicants need to do with regard to their social media profiles? Should you delete your online profiles and avoid social media altogether? There is no clear answer. In fact, deleting your profile may not even be reasonable. First, you would likely have to avoid social media forever, as many employers tend to check their employee’s social media sites periodically.

On the other hand, if you have no online presence whatsoever, that may signal something else to an employer which might lead to age discrimination. Possibly the best solution is to make sure your social media profile settings to “friends only” and decline any friend requests from employers or co-workers.

Applicants aren’t the only ones who need to worry

We all know that “at-will” employment means your employer has the right to fire you for nearly any reason. Complaining openly about your supervisor, or management in general, is not the wisest thing to do if you want to keep your job. However, we should all be able to voice our opinions or complaints without fear of retribution, at least under the First Amendment. Nevertheless, be very careful what you say on social media about your employer or co-workers.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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