Discrimination by Name Type in Hiring

Published June 24, 2014

Discrimination by Name Type in Hiring

Who would have thought that getting a call back for a job interview not only comes down to experience, but also to employers’ reactions to your name?

A National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) field experiment tackled this very question. In the experiment, researchers submitted resumes of fictitious individuals in response to newspaper help-wanted ads.

The results showed that names perceived as “White” resulted in a 50 percent higher call back rate than those that sounded African American. Resumes with addresses in better neighborhoods also received more call backs, but that didn’t seem dependent on race. Yet employers located in more African American neighborhoods were less likely to discriminate.

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Social Media Discrimination

Another study by Carnegie Mellon University found that employers in states with high levels of people identifying themselves as Republican were less likely to interview candidates whose social networking profiles indicate that they are Muslim.

Again, researchers created fictitious applicants, but this time they all had identical resumes. The researchers also created social profiles for each applicant that revealed sexual orientation or religious affiliation but kept all other information – even the photograph – the same. None of the resumes mentioned the applicant’s online profile.

The study found no difference in the number of call backs between the gay or straight applicant between Republican and Democratic states. However, the Republican-state employers were more likely to call back the fictitious applicants with “Christian” social media profiles than those identified as Muslim.

Using Social Media in the Recruiting Process

The career search engine Monster offers the following advice on their Social Media Recruiting: Understand the Legal Guidelines page:

“Once you review a candidate’s online profile, a court will assume you are aware of that person’s ‘protected characteristics’ that are often part of their online postings. These characteristics include gender and race as well as those that are not always evident in a face-to-face interview such as religion, age, sexual orientation or disability. In such cases employers need to be particularly careful not to expand their interview questions or decision-making beyond legal interview limits.”

The EEOC and Workplace Discrimination

In a public meeting, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) warned employers that using social media to screen applicants can put employers at risk of violating anti-discrimination laws. Information such as the applicant’s race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, religion or other protected characteristics can be gained from using social media and could constitute a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.

The EEOC recommended a couple of alternative strategies:

  • Use a third party to conduct social media screening of applicants. This is similar to the common use of a third party for conducting background checks
  • Designate a specific employee within your company to perform social media background checks – someone who is not the final decision maker but who is trained to disregard protected characteristics when exploring job candidates

While employers may use social media to find and interact with qualified job candidates, they must also have consistent safeguards in place to ensure they are not in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

This Employment Law News blog is intended for market awareness only, it is not to be used for legal advice or counsel.

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