Hiring Discrimination Based on Social Media Posts

Hiring Discrimination Based on Social Media Posts

Human resource officers in most companies routinely check job candidates’ social media posts when deciding whom to hire.  Certainly, young people are warned not to post photos that they might later regret having made available to potential employers.  But a more serious issue involves standard reviewing of job candidates’ social media information.  Specifically, do employers discriminate based on such information?

An Experiment in Hiring Discrimination via Online Social Networks

Two researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University conducted an experiment to determine whether social media information posted by prospective employees influences employers’ hiring decisions. The researchers created false resumes and social media profiles.  They submitted job applications on behalf of the fictional “candidates” to about four thousand U.S. employers.  They then compared employers’ responses to different groups—for instance, to Muslim candidates versus Christian candidates.

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The researchers found that candidates whose public profiles indicated that they were Muslim were less likely to be called for interviews than Christian applicants.  The difference was particularly pronounced in parts of the country with more conservative residents.  In those locations, Muslims received callbacks only two percent of the time, compared with seventeen percent for Christian applicants.  According to the authors of the study, “Hiring discrimination via online searches of candidates may not be widespread, but online disclosures of personal traits can significantly influence the hiring decisions of a self-selected set of employers.”

Job Candidates’ Perception of the Hiring Process

Job candidates frequently view the hiring process as unfair when they know that their social media profiles have been used in the selection process.  This perception may make litigation more likely.  Nevertheless, eighty-four percent of employers report using social media to recruit job applicants.  One-third of those who recruit in this manner admit that they have disqualified applicants based on content found in their social media accounts.

The EEOC Speaks Up

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has investigated how prospective employers can use social media to engage in discrimination in the hiring process.  Given that the Society for Human Resource Management estimates that more than three-fourths of its members use social media in their employment screening process, the EEOC is interested in regulating this procedure.

Social media sites, examined closely, can provide information to a prospective employer on the applicant’s race, color, national origin, disability, religion, and other protected characteristics.  The EEOC has reminded employers that such information—whether it comes from social media postings or other sources—may not legally be used to make employment decisions on prohibited bases, such as race, gender, and religion.

Question Presented

Can you think of a way a company could use information from an applicant’s social media posts without running the risk of being accused of hiring discrimination?

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