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Labor & Employment

Some employers use Facebook to discriminate against job applicants, study suggests

Posted Nov 25, 2013 6:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Poll: Do you look at Facebook or Twitter accounts of potential hires?

This poll ended on Tue, December 17, 2013 - 12:06:07.

Results

  • Yes. What I find on the Web I consider fair game.
    406 votes (72.11%)
  • No, that could trigger liability concerns.
    157 votes (27.89%)
Total Votes: 563

Many employers say they check out job applicants on Facebook or other social media for unprofessional behavior, but online profiles may also harm applicants who appear to be Muslim, a new study has found.

The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) describes the experiment. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University sent more than 4,000 fake resumés to companies with online job openings. Four fake, male job applicants were created, and each had a unique name to avoid confusion for employers consulting Facebook profiles created for the experiment. One appeared to be Muslim, one Christian, one gay and one straight.

The findings: The gay and straight applicants got about an equal number of callbacks, but Christians got more callbacks than Muslims, particularly in the 10 most-Republican leaning states. In those conservative areas, 17.3 percent of the Christians got callbacks, compared to only 2.3 percent of the Muslims.

The 10 states were Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. They were identified based on 2012 election data.

Lawyers interviewed about the study for Trib Live Business say they advise employers not to consult social media sites because it could be used against them in suits by spurned job applicants. “The risk you run on a social media site,” said Douglas Smith, managing partner of the Pittsburgh office of Jackson Lewis, “is an applicant may discuss their religion or a disability. Then the employer has the information, and even if they make a legitimate decision, they face an uphill battle in court in making a defense on an employment decision.”

The study researchers are Alessandro Acquisti and Christina Fong. The study is available here on SSRN.

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