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A lawyer explains why that’s OK
Job seekers who doubt the risks of letting loose on social media—and recruiters who wonder if they should check candidates' online activities—might consider the story of a dating site, an outburst, a screen shot and a recruiter.
In late July, Boston-based Sam Oliver, an independent recruiter for tech startups, took notice of a friend's Facebook post: a screen shot of "graphic and threatening" comments that a man had sent to the friend via the dating app OkCupid.
The would-be suitor made the remarks after Oliver's friend had rejected him, according to the screen capture of their chat. (This link will take you to an article that Oliver wrote about the incident, which includes a link to the screen capture. Be advised that the language in the screen capture might be offensive to some readers.)
"In the screen shot of their exchange, I could see his profile photo and recognized him," Oliver told
SHRM Online. "I visited his OkCupid profile and looked at his other photos, trying to figure out why I recognized him."
After some online sleuthing using Google's reverse image search, Oliver discovered that the world is indeed small—too small for the man in question.
One of the photos on his dating-site profile also appeared "on both his LinkedIn and AngelList profiles, which is where I recognized him from," Oliver said. The man had applied to one of Oliver's clients through tech startup job site AngelList.
"Part of my job is to filter through the inbound candidates," she noted. "This man had submitted his LinkedIn profile, resume and a short bio to my client for consideration for a software developer position."
Oliver immediately withdrew the applicant from consideration for the job. "I sent him a message via AngelList letting him know my client was not interested in his candidacy and that he should be nicer to women on the Internet," she said.
"As a recruiter, I was concerned because this man verbally degraded and threatened another woman with sexual assault. This behavior strongly suggests he would contribute to a hostile work environment if hired," Oliver said.
Oliver said she didn't hear from the candidate again. After she wrote to him, he deactivated his AngelList and LinkedIn profiles. The man's OkCupid profile now contains no photos.
SHRM Online reached out to him for comment through the app but did not get a response.
Oliver wrote a blog post about the experience, and at least one Boston television station
reported on it.
"I sought legal advice on the matter because I received a number of threats [online]." My attorney informed me that I did nothing wrong and that my friend is able to press charges against this man under Massachusetts law, should she choose to. As far as I know, she has not yet chosen to press charges," Oliver said.
Rejection Is Legal
Florida-based employment attorney Donna Ballman, author of
Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards (2012, Career Press), agreed that Oliver was justified in screening the man out based on his dating-site exchange with her friend.
"Not only is it legal to refuse to hire a potential employee after seeing discriminatory and threatening remarks online, but I'd argue that it could subject the company to liability if they did hire him in spite of these online comments," Ballman told
SHRM Online via e-mail.
"Once the company is on notice that an employee or potential employee has the propensity to engage in sex discrimination, sexual harassment or violence against women, they would almost certainly be liable if they hire him and he engages in that kind of activity in the workplace.
"If they hired him, they would have to take extra precautions to prevent this type of behavior in the workplace. Plus, it could be a morale issue. If women find out about these comments and are afraid to be alone with him, the company could lose good employees," Ballman added.
She did share a word of warning, however. If the employer passed on this candidate but then hired another person who had made similar comments online that the company knew about, and if that person was a different sex, race, age, national origin or other protected category from the individual who was dropped from consideration, then the employer could be subject to a discrimination claim, she said.
Consider, for example, if a woman was making the comments, Ballman remarked. "Sometimes employers treat women and men differently in this type of situation. You can't have a double standard."
This wasn't the first time Oliver turned down a job candidate because of a social media post, and she's hardly alone in scanning applicants' online presences.
According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management this year,
more than one-third of companies disqualified a candidate in the past year over information that was found on public social media sites or that appeared in an online search.
"As a recruiter, a big portion of my job is sourcing talent. I find people's blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook, etc., to evaluate their candidacy," Oliver said. "I have seen candidates on OkCupid before, though never in such a negative context."
"Social media is another tool that employers use to evaluate you—use it to your advantage," she added. "If you're not going to use it to showcase your interests [and] personality, then at least make sure there's nothing offensive or illegal on there. If you wouldn't say it out loud in real life, don't say it online."
Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia. She writes about HR, entrepreneurship, medicine and personal finance, among other subjects.
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