In today’s technology-driven world, everyone has a presence online, and for job seekers, a post on Facebook could be fair game for a potential employer making a hiring decision.
According to a survey conducted by Careerbuilder.com in 2018, 70 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, and almost 60 percent found content on those sites that caused them not to hire a candidate.
A recent study by Penn State explored some of the reasons job recruiters are less likely to hire a candidate based on what they post and found those who appear too opinionated or self-absorbed on social media, or who post suggestive content or drug or alcohol use, often deter employers.
Jessica Post leads the Labor and Employment practice group at Fennemore Craig, a law firm that serves clients throughout the Mountain West. Her main work is focused on helping employers to stay compliant and providing counsel to employers in day to day situations that may arise.
In talking to employers about what matters to them in a candidate or employee’s social media, she found that the self-absorption and strong opinions described in the Penn State study hold true.
“I think that employers will steer clear of high opinions, antagonistic opinions, just because they’re not looking to bring divisiveness into the workplace,” she said. “If someone is willing to post that information on Facebook, taking awfully strong positions in those posts, that’s an area which employers might look at and make a decision.”
Post said some other common types of social media posts that deter employers are inappropriate photos, inebriated posts and the “constant poster,” or a person who posts updates all day long. Constant posters can appear to be self-absorbed to an employer.
In the Penn State study, researcher Michael Tews concluded that “hiring managers view individuals who are more self-absorbed and focused on their own interests to be less likely to sacrifice for the benefit of other employees and the organization.”
While there are many types of posts an employer can look at while making a decision on hiring, they have to tread lightly, and be sure they are not violating any type of protected status or medical information.
“What an employer can’t consider is anything that would be discriminatory or a protected category that might make an employer not hire somebody as a result,” Post said.
For example, if someone posted on Facebook that they were having a baby in six months or had just completed a medical treatment, an employer could not refuse to hire them for those reasons.
Individuals have successfully brought claims against companies for discriminating against them based on social media posts.
More often, Post is consulted when a company has a current employee who is posting questionable content online.
“What comes up most for me is when an employee posts something discriminatory on their Facebook page, the employer learned about it, other employees know about and now they have somebody in their private life but still posting statements publicly that would not be acceptable in the workplace,” Post said. “Under those circumstances an employer wants to know what they can do and frequently they will terminate someone for that type of statement.”
Current employees still have protections and Post said the biggest source of confusion for companies is often the posts that fall into a gray area.
“Once (a company) is concerned that they could be making an employee decision that would run afoul of Title VII, they should reach out, and sometimes they intuitively want to run it by someone,” Post said.
For anyone seeking a job, Post said it’s important to present a professional, updated social media presence, and that job seekers should utilize the right types of social media.
“Sometimes social media is negative but it can be positive too,” she said. “If an employer goes into a LinkedIn account and it’s clear that employee is keeping it updated and there’s all these people saying this person is excellent in this job or this skill, that’s validating what a person said in their interview or on their resume.”
Employers will only continue to use social media when making employment decisions, so Post said both companies and individuals must always keep that in mind.
“The vast majority of employers, small and big, now do look on social media and people should respect that,” she said. “If you are applying for a professional position you should have a professional social media presence because employers are looking and they will base decisions on people they perceive to be difficult or problematic in the workplace.”