homepage Welcome to WebmasterWorld Guest from
register, free tools, login, search, pro membership, help, library, announcements, recent posts, open posts,
Become a Pro Member
Home / Forums Index / WebmasterWorld / Community Building and User Generated Content
Forum Library, Charter, Moderators: rogerd

Community Building and User Generated Content Forum

Legal Danger: Checking Job Applicants on Social Sites
In the U.S., checking social profiles could result in discrimination

 2:49 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

Those who interview job applicants in the U.S. have to be very careful not to ask questions that could result in discriminatory hiring. An innocent question like "Do you have children?" could be used to discriminate against applicants with kids (and who might, say, have more instances of tardiness or absence due to child illness, day care difficulties, etc.). Questions about ethnicity, religion, etc. are also way off limits for interviewers and application materials. One can't even ask, "do you have a car?" unless that's a specific job requirement.

With the popularity of social sites like Facebook and MySpace, however, employers can gain access to all sorts of information that would normally be off limits. According to Employers who check out job candidates on MySpace could be legally liable [blogs.techrepublic.com.com], this could create a legal problem for employers.
Employers could be accused of using the data on such sites to cull minorities, homosexuals, and other applicants who are members of protected class. It is even illegal in some states to make a job decision based on applicants’ political activities, a factor that would be easy to find out on a social networking site.

Individual lawsuits for not getting hired aren't all that common and are tough to prove. What is quite a bit easier in the US is to show a pattern of discrimination over a larger number of applicants. A combination of statistically low hiring numbers for a protected group and the use of social research in the hiring process might (in the opinion of a non-lawyer) create a credible case.

At this point, I'm not aware of any cases that have actually alleged bias based on social research - the real liability is still speculative.



 3:27 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

I find this a bit far-fetched...as you have emphasised quite correctly, individual instances of discremination rarely result in lawsuits, unless you can clearly prove it, eg. after the interviewer has made negative comments or asked questions that are not allowed. But unless he or she admits that information from social networks were checked, how would you prove it?

One thing is certain, though: Information that is published online is PUBLIC. Sounds simple, but seems to be hard to understand for vast amounts of people who present drinking pics and other rubbish online.


 3:33 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

Depending on how the information is utilized.

Personally, I feel that if the applicant is thoughtless enough to use their every-day email to set up a MySpace account or leave their account public where it can be easily accessed by potential employers then that simply shows a lack of forethought. That is why I wouldn't want that person working for me not because they are thin/fat, black/white, female/male.

Also, how can the interviewee find out that their profile was viewed and by whom? This is a silly.


 3:45 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

The legal issue with hiring usually revolves around a "pattern of discrimination" - it's less dependent on what happened with any one applicant and is more about numbers and practices. I.e., if fewer members of a minority/protected group are hired than would be predicted from application percentages, general population share, etc. AND the employer is known to use social network sites to check out applicants AND the employer is unable to otherwise explain the discrepancy (such as by relevant education or experience differences), the employer could have a problem.


 3:54 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

It is even illegal in some states to make a job decision based on applicants' political activities, a factor that would be easy to find out on a social networking site.

I'll tell ya what, if I was an employer these days, and things have changed from what the old fogeys are still trying to enforce, the first thing I'd do is an exact phrase search for the person's name in Google. Yup, that's the first thing. Oh, I'll use a few other terms in that query to refine my search and make sure I've found the right person. And, this only applies to specific industries. Not everyone can be found online, yet!

Political Activities? Wow! You mean to tell me if I find someone who is a practicing evangelist in a particular movement that goes against my government's way of life that I can't use that as a determination in hiring candidates? Bull#*$!

If you are in an industry where employers have quick access to your online profiles from social networking sites, you better be on the ball. If you are not, those profiles may be the death of your career objectives. And, if you piss someone off in your online travels, you'll have that page to contend with too. :(


 3:59 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

It's also important to remember that "people who drink too much and have embarrassing photos posted" do not constitute a protected group under U.S. law. :) As far as I know, employers are free to make value judgments about applicants with stupid stuff in their profiles, and drop them in the reject pile. It's only when profile information is used to discriminate against protected groups that there's a problem, and I'd guess that very, very few employers use social profiles for that purpose.


 4:58 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think all this information goes into the mix. Make sure to keep your profile clean, even if you are bidding on jobs.


 5:03 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

It was helpful to research the interviewers on Linkedin and Facebook and know what to expect.

Smart move! You'll probably get the position if it fits what you are looking for. Many fail to research their prospective employers.

On a side note, be sure to use a professional email address in your profiles. Also, don't use a name that you use somewhere else like Match.com or something. All that stuff can be easily backtracked and the employer probably won't have to ask how many children you have or what your dog's name is.

Let's face it, if you're doing the Social Networking scene, there is very little that people don't know about you.


 7:27 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

Well a lot of the things that are being discussed as stupid to put on your profile shouldn't be what an employer is looking at anyway. Certainly drinking can be a factor if it affects your job performance: ie, a glass of wine at lunch is no problem, but six shots and a few beers is, or if you oversleep because you're out late partying all the time; these things are relevant.

Employers, generally speaking, shouldn't be worried about what their employees do in their off time, and my opinion is that saving face is not a good reason to can someone. Did the employee do good work? Priority number one. But that's an idea and not a practice.

There's certainly issues with that philosophy: being so trusting can lead to hiring people with poor work ethic, but this is why we have things called references and contacting former employers. Someone doesn't want you to call their previous employer? Fine, take that as a note and factor it into your decision; they clearly didn't end on good terms at their last job, regardless of the reason (I should note that former employers are not always the best source of information; I once had a boss who took things very personally when I quit. I consider him an exception rather than a rule).

I'm a weird fellow, though. A strong portfolio and no degree says more to me than an ivy league degree and no portfolio! It just makes more sense that way to me.


 7:33 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

This is a very interesting point, although I do think that, morally, if you put information on a publically accessible website, you can't really cry about it when people access it, especially if you have an unusual name.

It's not just race, religion and family details that might have an effect though. I have to admit I googled a potential employee a couple of months ago, and found a post on a news site in which he ranted about how Bernard Manning (a bigotted UK comedian who dies recently) was a "man of the people" who "spoke the truth" etc. He didn't get shortlisted.

<added>by the way, employer references aren't worth the paper they're written on. people have sued and won over bad references, so no-one gives a bad one</added>


 8:16 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

by the way, employer references aren't worth the paper they're written on. people have sued and won over bad references, so no-one gives a bad one

Yeah, I've heard about that happening. Truthfully, it's a fairly stupid interpretation of a law which prevents people from interfering with potential contracts. It's a bit of a balancing act that needs to be corrected: one needs protection from former employers who might lie (such as my example), but truthful and relevant information should be applicable in those circumstances.

As per your example: that's his opinion, and under my idea opinions shouldn't be considered unless they strongly indicate that the prospect can't play well with others or otherwise interfere in your line of work. In your example specifically, I probably would have swung the same way if armed with that information.

I have no issue posting information about my personal life (not the important numbers, or anything, but my activities and such) on the web. I'm certainly not the worst person in the world, and if an employer really cared that much about the specifics, it probably wouldn't be a good company to work for anyway ;)


 8:22 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

So, another important point. How much anonymity should you maintain in this new Social Networking Era? Should you adopt a username as opposed to using your real name? How would you approach that?


 9:23 pm on Jun 20, 2008 (gmt 0)

the first thing I'd do is an exact phrase search for the person's name in Google. Yup, that's the first thing.

Why didn't I get this fine advice several years ago?

True story:

I hired a guy to work on our "night shift". His supervisor was a female and there were only 5-8 people in the entire plant (40,000 sq/ft) each night. It was a SMALL amount of employees that worked the night shift.

The guy seemed a little "odd", but nothing that raised anyone's suspicions...much. (The truth is...that almost everyone on the night shift seemed a bit "different".)

This guy kept complaining about his teeth...how they hurt...but he would NOT go to a dentist.

He worked the night shift for about 1 1/2 years and then quit to become a dishwasher at a local truck stop.

I think he worked there about 10 months before we heard the news:

He was arrested by the FBI (or some federal agency). He was wanted in Mass. for raping (violently) a little girl. He was so dangerous he was on the Mass. "10 most wanted men" list.

I found this last part out when I typed in (ONLY) his last name into Google. The number one result was the "Mass. 10 most wanted" list...complete with his mug shots.

So...a quick check of his LAST name...would have put him behind bars 2 years earlier. I felt quite bad I didn't even think to do it...

The "dentist" part? He was using his brother's first name and (I think) he apparently knew that his dental records would not match.


 2:38 am on Jun 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Suppose someone who applies has been in the media, meybe on tv.
If you've seen article/tv reports etc about them, would it be wrong to use info from these in making decision [even media news report, rather than online, re wanted for rape]?
I'd reckon not; and info in public profiles likewise seems fair enough. This discrimination malarky can go too far, I think - coming soon, people saying they didn't get hired because they're no use at whatever the job they're applying for involves.

I met a guy who told me that when employers investigate people, it's possible to uncover stuff that's even in "private" areas of networking sites profiles etc. This is surely a far dodgier area.


 3:59 am on Jun 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

>.In the U.S., checking social profiles could result in discrimination

not if you don't tell anyone ;)


 4:24 am on Jun 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Surely the pages of disclaimer you agree to when joining these social networking sites pretty much obliterate your right to object to anyone using your information for any purpose?


 10:59 am on Jun 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Such discussion remembers me why I am self-employed and living from my adsense/affiliate income. Although there may be hard times, it is worth it not to have to worry about such stuff.


 11:07 pm on Jun 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Should you adopt a username as opposed to using your real name?

Just don't do/say anything that you wouldn't say if you were face to fac...oh wait, this is the Internet, we should be able to say anything we want with no responsibility.


 4:59 pm on Jun 22, 2008 (gmt 0)

It is sometimes too late to do anything when google indexes comments made years ago and you put your full name to them.
Although you can make comments that make you look brilliant and caring and hardworking then wait for them to be indexed!
According to my real name I am a environmentally friendly, accute business minded family orientated politically aware hard worker!
I keep my usernames for my off the cuff remarks.
Also I always feel that employers can be too robotic in employing staff expecting people to just work and work and have no views or bad habbits or to have lived at all unless it is corporate living.
But if you want a job at MTV or as a DJ then the flip side is true.
Make your comments appear like you have travelled and "met" with many and partaken in most things!
Let he who is without sin......
that is what I say.
I imagine google get many requests to remove comments from indexes daily. But what if your name is John Smith or Dave Jones?
You'd get no job anywhere as you have probably done everything under the sun.
"that was another John Smith" I would say!
Maybe we should all stop using the net as it is a goldmine for BIG BROTHER and scamsters.


 6:22 pm on Jun 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

I think the problem mostly is the fact that if someone doesn't like you, then they can MAKE a profile about you on any of these sites and slander your good name, and then if you have a relatively uncommon name it is easy to locate you through Google, MySpace, etc. When employers come across this fake profile of yours, how are you supposed to defend yourself?

This is a huge problem right now with a popular school-based forum that is completely unmonitored and therefore free from any legal consequences.

Also, if you have an uncommon name, REGISTER THE DOMAIN NAME! For bonus points build a great website around it and then companies will be more inclined to hire you anyway.


 11:13 pm on Jun 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

Good points, Murdoch. I guess we are seeing the emergence of "black hat" reputation management.


 11:35 pm on Jun 23, 2008 (gmt 0)

There is a story of a company that gave a small technical test to all applicants. The test was administered on a workstation in an empty office.

Using the logs they noticed one applicant had gone to a forum and posted a question from the test.... not so bad, it shows that when faced with a problem that they don't know they know enough to look it up... great they thought.... then they tried a neat feature of the site... "Find More posts by this user"

So they looked at the last few posts and found this gem a from a few weeks before, from right around the time he had left his old job.

I accidentally deleted all the records in database table, how can I undo this? I meant to do:
delete from table where id = 10 but I I forgot the where part. I need to fix this before my boss finds out, can anyone help.

Needless to say he didn't get the job.

I understand why this can be abused. But with the amount of crappy applicants that seem to make it I will make use of any tool I can to determine the qualifications of an applicant. Since I know I don't discriminate I know I won't abuse it but if I see a Facebook status of "Back to rehab" for a job applicant you can bet I will use that info to make the best choice for my company.

This is an extremely interesting topic though. I can see both sides clearly and I can't pick one.


 6:26 pm on Jun 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

It is even illegal in some states to make a job decision based on applicants' political activities, a factor that would be easy to find out on a social networking site.

Interestingly, this just popped up on NYTimes.com today:

“Many qualified candidates” were rejected for the department’s honors program because of what was perceived as a liberal bias, the report found. Those practices, the report concluded, “constituted misconduct and also violated the department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations.”

Report Sees Illegal Hiring Practices at Justice Department [nytimes.com]

The article doesn't mention social networking sites but it does show that this sort of hiring discrimination can be caught and outed when it happens in a large systematic way. If you simply replace the word 'resume' with the words 'social networking profile' I think you can see that rogerd might not be as far from the truth as some have proposed here.

Just noticed something hilarious in that article
what some officials saw as a liberal tilt in recruiting young lawyers from elite law schools like Harvard and Yale

President George W. Bush attended both of those schools ;) Just goes to show that discrimination is often misguided as well as morally wrong.


 11:08 pm on Jul 3, 2008 (gmt 0)

A lot of job seekers already know that employers have been doing this for a while. I've been seeing a trend with my peers when people post info about themselves on myspace that will appeal to employers.

About me: I'm hardworking and reliable.
who I'd like to meet: Other young professionals with dedication

Global Options:
 top home search open messages active posts  

Home / Forums Index / WebmasterWorld / Community Building and User Generated Content
rss feed

All trademarks and copyrights held by respective owners. Member comments are owned by the poster.
Home ¦ Free Tools ¦ Terms of Service ¦ Privacy Policy ¦ Report Problem ¦ About ¦ Library ¦ Newsletter
WebmasterWorld is a Developer Shed Community owned by Jim Boykin.
© Webmaster World 1996-2014 all rights reserved