Social Media Research + Employment Decisions: May Be a Recipe for Litigation

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We are the Google generation. We meet someone interesting, and then search the Internet to learn more about them. There is nothing wrong with doing this in the context of networking, making new friends, or pitching for business. However, searching the Internet for information about someone who is trying to get a job with your company is another matter entirely. This is not to say you cannot Google them. In fact, it is estimated that 45% of companies research a job candidate on the Internet. In a December 2009 survey commissioned by Microsoft, 70 percent of the 275 U.S. recruiters, human resources professionals and hiring managers who responded said they have rejected candidates based on information found online. Thirty-five percent of those employers said they rejected applicants based on membership in certain groups.

You might be thinking, "what could possibly be wrong with finding public information that the job candidate has freely shared on the Internet?" "Having shared that information, the company should be able to ask him about it. After all, the job applicant is not making a secret of it."

Protected Classes Under Federal and State Law

Now, step back and think for a moment. There are subjects that are considered off limits for employers to ask job applicants about. Under federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination when making employment related decisions. A company cannot make hiring, discipline and termination decisions based on any of the following protected factors: race, color, national origin, religion and gender. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) adds to the list with a prohibition on discrimination against individuals who are 40 years or older. And, finally, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination against "qualified disabled" individuals. Employment decisions are defined broadly and include promotion, demotion, compensation, and transfers.

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