I just listened to a very informative podcast today by economist and statistical consultant Stephanie R. Thomas, Ph.D., titled Recruiting, Social Media and Disparate Impact, which I highly recommend to anyone reading this post, particularly, recruiters.  Ms. Thomas is the Director, Equal Employment Advisory and Litigation Support Division, for Minimax Consulting in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

Ms. Thomas notes that recruiters are increasingly using social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook for four main reasons:

  • The return on investment (ROI) is higher than other recruitment programs (value of the benefits greatly exceeds the cost).
  • Decreases vacancy rates because hiring can occur faster due to the speed of making direct contact with applicants over the Internet.
  • Increased responsiveness from applicants because social media sources contain less spam and provide direct contact.
  • Able to identify hidden candidates who cannot be found through traditional recruiting methods.

However, Ms. Thomas indicates that disparate treatment and disparate impact claims can arise by virtue of recruiters using social media, especially if social media is the exclusive method used

Disparate Treatment Claims

When applicants fill out job applications, they are not (supposed to be) asked questions that might reveal their age, religious views, familial or marital status, sexual orientation, etc.; however, people who maintain Facebook or LinkedIn profiles typically post a photo, and may disclose information about their family or marital status, religious views, sex, age, birthdate, race, ethnicity, etc. (to potential employers).   

Further, disparate treatment claims could arise when a recruiter checks out social media information for some applicants but not others, or if the recruiter evaluates data in different ways for different applicants.

Disparate Impact Claims

A disparate impact claim may arise if the recruiter relies exclusively on social media to search for job candidates.  For example, if only candidates who maintain a social media profile are considered, this will automatically screen out a large pool of the civilian labor population that does not maintain such profiles.  Ms. Thomas provides considerable statistical information on which races or ethnicities use and don’t use Facebook or LinkedIn.  It is quite enlightening!  

Whites and Asians are clearly over-represented on Facebook and LinkedIn in comparison to the civilian labor force.  She provides additional statistics on African-Americans and Hispanics.  

It certainly worth 15 minutes to give Ms. Thomas’ podcast a listen.