As we all know, people post highly personal information about themselves on Facebook and other Social Media without thinking twice. Religion, sexual orientation, race relationship status and other personal issues are all part and parcel of the Facebook profile.
Social Networks would seem to be the ideal platform to find qualified candidates for jobs. Think about it – finding jobs or suitable candidates for jobs is often based on networking – a friend of a friend who has heard about a highly qualified individual who is looking for a job.
Theoretically, this would seem to be a win-win situation. But according to Federal Equal Employment Laws, employment discrimination is prohibited against qualified individuals with disabilities. They also ban discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin or age. In some states, even stricter rules are imposed in the matter of employment discrimination.
The sort of information related to a candidate’s race, national origin and even one’s pregnancy status comes under the definition of “protected information” and as a potential employer you are banned from asking about it in the course of an interview.
But this sort of protected information is served to you on a silver platter in the candidate’s social media profile. Is it legal for your company to use it when considering possible candidates for a position?
Let’s consider a situation where a highly qualified woman has applied for a position. But then the woman’s Facebook profile shows that she is pregnant. Legally, the potential employer is not allowed to act on this information and may just end up being sued for discrimination if he decides not to hire the candidate. The icing on the cake is that you, as the potential employer, have to be able to prove that the candidate’s pregnancy was not the reason for hiring another applicant. Not an undertaking that most employers relish.
Despite the risks, don’t discount social media as a platform for hiring just yet. Protect yourself by departmentalizing the hiring process. Have one individual conduct the online search and another entity (perhaps a screening or HR agency) deal with the actual hiring. If you choose to discuss the candidate with your online researcher, avoid any questions connected to protected information.