A Discrimination Battle: Employers and Social Media

 

Social Media PictureWith advancing technology and the increasing use of social media, the fine line between work and play is continuing to thin. The virtual world has allowed individuals to expand both social and professional networks as well as represent themselves in more creative and vocal manners. Needless to say, employers are catching on and are beginning to use social networking sites to their advantage.  However, can a user’s profile hurt him or her in their candidacy for a job promotion?

The answer is yes – but only under certain conditions.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an online presence can provide new opportunities as well as raise new concerns. A study conducted in 2013 found that almost a third of all US employers ran an online search on potential candidates prior to beginning the hiring process.  Another survey released in 2013 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that approximately 77 percent of companies reported utilizing social networking sites to recruit candidates – a 40 percent increase from those surveyed in 2008.  Without a doubt, the use of social media is growing and has a substantial impact on the work force. There are several great uses for social media from an employer’s perspective including a way to engage employees and disseminate company-wide information, marketing to consumers, crises management, and of course, recruiting new employees. However, improper use of information found on an individual’s personal account can lead to illegalities and may be harder to avoid than one thinks.

Title VII under the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects all individuals from employer discrimination despite their race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin. Once an employer chooses to search a candidate’s social media profile, a judge will assume that the employer is aware of that person’s protected characteristics under Title VII. Individuals tend to supply their social media accounts with more information than what they address on their resumes’ or even provide in an interview. Within just a few seconds of reviewing a candidate’s social profile, an employer can learn about the candidate’s relationship status, whether they are disabled, who they are voting for, their general appearance, where they are from, etc.

So what can an employer and what do employers often discriminate against when searching major social networking sites? Any reference to illegal drugs or alcohol, posts with profanity or sexual activity, improper spelling and grammar, and political affiliations are all on the list. Many HR managers recommend that in order to avoid any subconscious discrimination, if an employer chooses to review their candidates’ social media accounts, they should do so only after meeting them face-to-face. Employers should also check every candidate’s account if they decide to check one at all.

One point is certain – social media in human resource management is here to stay, but employers should be cautious on how to utilize networking sites as an aid and not a hindrance.

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9 thoughts on “A Discrimination Battle: Employers and Social Media

  1. I like and agree with the stance you have on the topic and believe that social media has both positive and negative effects on hiring potential. In fact, social media sites such as LinkedIn are primarily used for the purpose of networking with possible employers. However, it has been seen that social media posts have gotten employees fired. It can be argued that these employees ought to have known better than to post something volatile. Yet, shouldn’t individuals have freedom of speech and expression? Despite protection under Title VII, these individuals are still punished without contest. If I were to suggest a change, it would be that these employees be put under the scrutiny of a board to give them an opportunity to appeal.

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  2. Being a professional student, I have heard millions of times from my professors, supervisors, and parents about being “careful” and “aware” of things I post on social media. I am not saying that I post obscene and offensive materials. However, I also agree that each individual should be granted the freedom of speech and expression. Yes, everyone is protected under Title VII under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but how is an individual to determine if they were discriminated against, let alone how does an individual prove that an act of discrimination was taken against them? Should individuals be notified on the job application or during application process of a “social media screening” similar to the notification of a background check? Everyone has a life outside of the work place, even those who hold executive positions within an organization. I feel, that although sometimes unintentional, when employers screen the social media sites of their employees, they welcome in and create room for the potential to be bias or discriminatory against an individual, which by no means is fair. The hiring of an employee should be based off of their interview, quality of work, education, and skills not on if they are a democrat or republican, for or against abortions, drinks one glass of wine a day or two. The point I’m trying to make is that these things that may seem simple and a form of freedom of speech and expression to an individual can have the potential to be a deciding factor in determining if an individual will or will not get a job.

    I agree with Rebecca, on the idea that in human resource management social media scanning is here to stay and that if an employer is going to check the account of one potential employee, they should check the account of all employees. The primary factor that should be taken into account is that employers should be cautious and careful of how they utilize the act of “social media scanning.”

    Here’s one last question: Is there an underlying act of biasness and discrimination when an employer decides to check an individual’s social media site before or after an interview, especially, if they do not normally check the social media sites of all future employees?

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  3. This is a topic of concern, and needs to be further evaluated as to whether or not social networks are protected under tittle VII. And, I do agree with Kiana and, you, Rebecca. How do you know if we are discriminated against during the hiring process?

    My biggest concern, that you mentioned, is that employers are discriminating against different political views. How many times have we posted on social media about political ideology?

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    1. Sloan, I’ve thought about this quite a bit, mostly because I’m so vocal about my political views on Facebook, and in some situations, political affiliation matters. A non-profit that has a specific party affiliation such as Democrat, may not want to hire someone who is outspokenly Republican and vice versa. Social media critiquing is unique to every industry.

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      1. That is a scary thought, and even scarier knowing that we may never know if we were discriminated against do to our political affiliation. This may be a major grey area where tittle 7 will be unable to protect our rights. I wonder, since there is a need, if there is a possible way to create a website or program that can black out all of our social media, for a short period of time, while we’re job searching? I would, most likely, pay for a service as such.

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  4. Trying to look at this issue from both angles you can almost see where each side is coming from. As an employee or job seeker, should we not be free to express ourselves, give our opinions and speak freely without worrying about how it will affect our current or prospective job? On the other hand, put yourself in the shoes of the employer. You’re tasked with the job of running a business. You’ve got a clear idea of who you want to hire to work alongside you and the others in your company. All the pieces need to be able to work in harmony together to get the job done. I don’t think there’s a perfect answer to this. At least not at this current time.

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  5. This indeed is a topic of concern. How do we know if we are posting things that could affect our future employment, even if to us, they seem ok. Honestly I am not one who will post things on social media that can drive attention to any party, however even some pictures that one may post may be judged. I agree with Kiana and Rebecca, however I do not see that it is wrong for an employer to check to see if the future employee is going to be an asset to the company or not. I think social media is there to express each individual but I do think there is a line that one self should not cross as well as the employeer looking into it.

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  6. I have always aired on the side of being conservative when it comes to my online profiles for this very reason. I have caught myself “liking” something that perhaps someone else wouldn’t agree with, and wondered how this might impact my future. While I try not to do it myself, I understand why even innocent things might be reason for discrimination from a potential employer. That information is out there for the world to see, and we should all be cognizant of what we post online. I also understand why an employer might want to avoid certain people based on their profiles, so today’s world is even more of a reason to be conservative with online posting.

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