How to Avoid Discrimination When Using Social Media Tools in Your Hiring Process

Are you or your company breaking the law when you use social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and others to recruit for new candidates and/or screen job applicants? Federal anti-discrimination laws assert that companies can’t discriminate individuals that fall into any of the “protected classes” that include age, sex, religion, race, disabilities, and others. Let’s look at a couple of situations where discrimination while using social media tools in the hiring process could come into play.

A company wants to hire sales people. They want aggressive talent that will hunt down new accounts and close business. The criteria are an individual with 3-5 years sales experience and no more than two jobs in the last 6 years. The potential candidate needs to have a degree and experience selling directly in the client’s industry. The complexities may begin when staff involved in the hiring process use LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social network sites to look for potential candidates that meet their requirements. They input the skills criteria and begin the search. As they pull up the list of possible candidates that may be capable of doing the job based on skills and experience, they decide to remove anyone from the list that looks like they may be older. They instantly eliminate those candidates from consideration based on age-not based on their skills, experience, or ability to be successful.

Or, what if during a search it is revealed that a candidate has a medical condition or a family member with a serious illness? Could they eliminate the candidate based on these findings because it may result in potentially higher medical costs for the company? Or what if it is discovered that a candidate is pregnant? Is it possible that the staff involved in the hiring process either deliberately removes these candidates from the list, or form an unconscious bias against them, in spite of their ability to do the job? And if this is the case, how do you prove or disprove it?

Online discriminatory behavior is difficult to track and prove. The use of social media tools in the hiring process make it easier for those involved in decision-making to simply “not” provide opportunities to those who do not meet their preconceived set of guidelines, whether it’s legal or not.

Social Media Raises Important Questions When Used to Source for Candidates

So, this raises some important questions that should be asked in your organization if you use social media networking sites in candidate screening and hiring.

Does your company have a clear policy that outlines what information can or can’t be used from social media networking sites in the hiring process?

It is recommended that companies establish a well-defined policy against using social media to discriminate when in the search or screen process for new job candidates. You also need to keep in mind that there is no way to verify whether or not information found online about applicants is factual or accurate, whether it puts them in positive or negative light.

Do you believe that your hiring staff’s ability to make good hiring decisions may get muddled by non-relevant information they see on social media sites? If so, what can be done to deter it?

Training is critical for your company’s HR staff, hiring managers, or any other employees involved in searching for and screening job candidates. Since there is always potential for finding and using information that falls into the protected class category, it’s important that those instrumental in the hiring process understand that it’s best to avoid looking for or collecting that information and instead focus on information that may demonstrate a pattern for bad work habits, poor communication skills, illegal activities, etc.

How are you monitoring your staff’s use of social media as it is used in your company’s hiring practices?

Monitoring the use of social media tools for screening purposes and actually developing a procedure that dictates where, how, and what to look for when conducting an information search on these sites in the hiring process demonstrates consistency in your company’s screening activities and can help alleviate a lot of room for error. It also helps you keep control over what goes on in the search process. An example may be creating a standard checklist of items to look for with a set of guidelines to check in every case. It may also be wise to document the information found as a safeguard. Taking these cautionary steps show uniformity in your search procedures just in case an allegation arises down the road.

When it comes to using social media tools to source for candidates-training and monitoring those involved need to be ongoing. The dangers are real and the costs are high if your company is ever suspected of using the wrong information against a candidate.

The ideal solution is to assign social media searches to a third-party that is not involved in the hiring decision process, but would act more as an information gatherer. Additionally, if your company is using an executive recruiting firm, it is a good idea to ask them if they have a social media policy in place and training for their teams regarding the use of social media tools for recruiting and screening candidates.

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