Why employers shouldn't view candidate's protected class information

As social media usage continues to grow, more employers are starting to recognize the value of using social media as a tool to screen job applicants. A candidate's online presence can reveal important information about their character. For the most part, potential employees put their best foot forward during a job interview. Yet they may have a history of posting violent, sexually explicit, racist, or unlawful material online.

It is great that companies are starting to incorporate social media into their hiring process. However, organizations should deliberately avoid looking at protected class information that pertains to their candidates.

What is a protected class?

'Protected class' is defined as:

A group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected from employment discrimination on the basis of that characteristic. Protected classes are created by both federal and state law.

Federally protected classes include age, color, disability, genetic information, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, and veteran status. State protected classes widely vary, but common ones are marital status, gender expression/identity, HIV/AIDS, lawful use of lawful products (e.g. alcohol, tobacco), and sexual orientation.

Why hide protected class information?

Looking at a candidate's protected class information can open your company up to discrimination lawsuits and breach of privacy claims. If a candidate is not offered a job because they were unqualified, but they know that an organization's HR team looked at their social media, they can claim that they have been discriminated against.

In 2012, a man brought an age discrimination lawsuit against Grange Mutual Casualty Co. The company claimed not to know the applicant's age, but the judge allowed the case to proceed after the man's attorney argued that his age could have easily been deduced from his LinkedIn which showed his high school graduation year.

Example: Facebook with protected class information visible

Consider the following example. Company A conducted an in-house search on their candidate Dosi Doe during which they discovered the following Facebook.

Social Media Screening for Intelligent Hiring

There is an extensive amount of protected class information visible on this page. One can conclude that the candidate appears to be pregnant, and her post indicates that she is religious. Additionally, her profile also reveals that she previously served in the military, and that she is from Iowa.

Example: Facebook with protected class information hidden

Company B decided to hire a third-party screener to investigate their candidate right from the start. The following screenshot shows Dosi Doe's Facebook with the redactions that Social Intelligence would make if we were your third-party screener.

Company B provided Social Intelligence with this information:
Name: Dosi Doe
Education: Saint Mary's University of Minnesota; St Mary's Roman Catholic School
Address: New York, NY

Social Media Screening for Intelligent Hiring

As you can see, the only visible information is that which was already provided by the company about the candidate. Furthermore, all protected class information is redacted. That way the applicant's information remains private, and Company B is further protected from discrimination lawsuits.

Hiding protected class information is just one step in our report process. Call us today to find out more information about our social media hiring reports, or fill out this form for a free sample report.


Contributing author: Caitlin Rogers