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Does your social media use risk discrimination by employers?

Most of our Colorado readers know that there are certain factors that an employer cannot take into consideration when deciding whether or not to hire a potential employee. Federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on factors such as race, gender or religious preference. But are employers learning the details of potential employees' lives through social media?

According to a college-level study, the answer to this question may be "Yes." A recent article detailed the findings of a study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The report indicates that some employers who were part of the study did indeed use social media to learn more about job applicants - and what they learned may have inadvertently led to discrimination.

It is easy to see how some of the details of a job applicant's life can be found by a potential employer who "Googles" the person to find out more about them. For instance, if the job applicant maintains a professional profile online, that profile may include a photograph - which can be used by an employer to determine a person's race or gender. Beyond that, if a job applicant uses Twitter or Facebook, some posts - intended for friends and family - could indicate a person's sexual orientation or religious preference. Whatever the means of social media communication, if an employer comes across this information, the Carnegie Mellon University study indicated that the employer may be tempted to use the information for hiring purposes.

Employment discrimination is illegal, and an employer who is found to engage in these types of illegal hiring practices can be held accountable. For Colorado residents who believe they have been the victim of discrimination, the first point of contact will usually be the Colorado Civil Rights Division or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "CMU study finds employer discrimination via social media sites," Kim Lyons, Nov. 27, 2013

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