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August 9, 2010 | HR Compliance | Posted by Ascentis Thought Leadership

Social Media Recruiting: A Word of Caution

More and more, social media is playing an important role in the workplace. From establishing brands, to extending them, to offering customers discounts and specials via a tweet or Facebook update, or for maintaining a great public customer service profile, social media has its feet planted firmly inside the world wide web and it’s not going anywhere.

Likewise, social media has established itself as an important player in finding a job, or ferreting out the perfect applicant for your job opportunity.  According to an August 2010 study by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder.Com it was revealed by workers that they look for specific things via social media when researching employers. 35% of respondents specifically look for job listings, 26% want facts about the company, 16% want to see that the employer is fun, and 9% want to see company awards and research that the company has conducted. See more the study results here. There is no harm in potential employees researching your company for a possible job opening. There are no discriminatory laws that govern future employees researching you.

Conversely, the opposite is true of employers (or recruiters) researching potential employees via social media. As soon as companies, recruiters, and human resource professionals start using social networks to make decisions about potential hires they open themselves up to a wide variety of possible discrimination claims.  The sheer quantity of potential employees available to your digital fingertips is empowering. With just a few clicks you could know more about a potential fit than you might during a screening call or even that first face to face interview.  What is so simple and yet so scary is that you could also possibly access all the information that you should never have accessed to begin with, and that in doing so you potentially open up both yourself and your company to claims of discriminatory practices.

The areas of information that recruiters can access via social media that could impact their hiring decisions are (to name just a few): drug and alcohol photos, poor communication skills (grammar problems), “offensive” photos, and a misleading job history or qualifications. It’s both easy and exciting to have this information at your fingertips. However, the most imperative thing to keep in mind is that in having access to this information you MAY legally by violating the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment and Executive Order 11246.  Considering that the two theories of employment discrimination revolve around “disparate impact” and “disparate treatment”, let’s look at how using social media as a recruiting tool could potentially harm you.

If recruiting managers do not have a standing recruiting process in place, and evaluate some applicants through social media and others through another process, the employer could be threatened with claims of disparate treatment.  Disparate impact comes into play when you ONLY consider applicants who use social media, will only consider applicants who showcase specific information on their profiles, or when you give preference to job seekers who have a higher status type ranking (the most contacts, followers or friends).

Additionally, other problematic areas related to protected information you might find when using social media for recruiting purposes are:

  • Using social media to qualify application or reference information
  • Using photographs of “off time” activities as a basis for a final decision
  • Accessing information related to protected class status

Federal anti-discrimination regulations oblige you to preserve specific employment related records. And Title VII specifically requires employers to maintain all records related to hiring for a period of two years. If you use profiles on any social networking site, these too, must be kept for two years.

Does any of this scare you? It should. But it’s not something that a carefully crafted, followed, and maintained recruiting policy and procedures guide can’t handle. With millions of potential job candidates using social networking you must use this tool in order to best use social media to find the perfect fit for your employment opening.

Rapid Learning Institute wrote a great post on how to reduce your potential exposure to hiring discrimination claims by establishing a strong social media recruiting policy.  The key points are (and we couldn’t agree more):
  • Screening should be uniform. Create a list of social media to be searched for every applicant, and also list the legal information you’re looking for. It’s legal to screen for indications of such things as illegal drug use, poor work habits, bad writing skills and discriminatory tendencies.
  • A non-hiring party should do the search. Designate an employee or employees who are not in a decision-making position to do applicant social media searches. These employees function as “cutouts,” filtering out information about race, age, disability, religion, etc. that can’t be used in the hiring decision. What hiring managers don’t know can’t be used against them.
  • Don’t get “friendly.” Organization representatives shouldn’t “friend” applicants to access their nonpublic profiles.
  • Document the decision. If you make a hiring decision based on a social media search/screen, be sure to have documented nondiscriminatory reasons for your action.

Also, check out these other great links this topic:

Twitter for Sourcing and Recruiting

Top 5 reasons to use social media for recruiting

Social Media Hiring Webinar

With more than 35 years of experience in providing Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, Ascentis thought leaders have become a respected source for insights, tips, and innovations in the Human Capital Management (HCM) space.