Social Media Use in Workplace Raises Employment Discrimination Concerns

Written By Thomas Ahearn

home-applicant-generated-report-systemA panel of experts has told the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that the growing use of social media by employers, applicants, and employees in today’s workplace may implicate and impact the federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment that the EEOC enforces. A press release about the Social Media Commission meeting convened at EEOC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to gather information is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/3-12-14.cfm.

“The increasing use of social media in the 21st century workplace presents new opportunities as well as questions and concerns,” EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien stated in the press release. “This meeting has helped the EEOC understand how social media is being used in the employment context and what impact it may have on the laws we enforce and on our mission to stop and remedy discriminatory practices in the workplace.”

Panelists told the EEOC that the use of social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook can help identify good candidates by searching for specific qualifications but the improper use of information obtained from social media sites may be discriminatory since the race, gender, age, and possibly ethnicity of most individuals can be discerned from information on these social media sites.

A panelist speaking on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) explained  that employers use social media for employee engagement, knowledge-sharing, marketing, and recruitment and hiring of new employees. A 2013 SHRM member survey found 77 percent of companies surveyed reported that they used social media sites to recruit candidates, up from 34 percent in 2008.

Another panelist said social media should be used in recruitment to cast a wide net for potential candidates. However, employers conducting a social media background check should have either a third party or a designated person in the company who does not make hiring decisions do the background check, and only use publicly available information and not request passwords for social media accounts.

The EEOC will hold open the Social Media Commission meeting record for 15 days and invites audience members and members of the public to submit written comments on any issues or matters discussed at the meeting. Public comments may be mailed to Commission Meeting, EEOC Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507, or emailed to: Commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov.

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