Perils of Googling Candidates

Jon Hyman | The Practical Employer

Perils of Googling Candidates

By Jon Hyman | The Practical Employer


n February 2011, my son (then 2 1/2 years old) was hospitalized for 19 days. He had stopped eating three months prior, and his gastroenterologist wanted to scope him to make sure that his medicated reflux was not a silent culprit.

Unbeknownst to us, however, he also suffered from a platelet function disorder. His platelets don’t work quite right. He produces enough of them, and they clot fine, but they don’t always stick together properly. Which is why he developed a hematoma somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a baseball at the endoscope’s lowest biopsy site, blocking the entrance to his small bowel. Hence, the 19-days hospital stay.

His reflux and wonky platelets are both symptoms of Donovan’s larger medical issue, Noonan syndrome, which is genetic disorder caused by one of several genetic mutations.

His is of the PTPN11 gene. It is a multisystem disorder with an estimated prevalence of 1 in 1,000-2,500 births. In Donovan’s case, he also has a congenital heart defect (pulmonary valve stenosis), ptosis of his right eye, low-set ears, small stature (for which he takes daily injections of growth hormones), and ADHD.

Which brings us back to Donovan’s hospital stay in February 2011. My wife and I were trading shifts in the hospital so that one of us would be home with our 4-year-old daughter. And as I sat in Donovan’s room on Feb. 13, 2011, watching him rest, my thoughts turned to Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day. “What can do I that is nice for my wife for Valentine’s Day?”

I quickly rejected the hospital gift shop as a source of gift inspiration, deciding that a logoed T-shirt to memorialize our hospital stay was not the most romantic idea. Gift-shop flowers were out, too.

At the time, I had been blogging for several years. I thought, why not set up a blog for my wife (a stay-at-home mom at the time) to write about what’s going on in her life. And that’s what she did, semi-regularly for several years, which included many posts about Donovan and his various medical issues.

Flash forward to the point in time at which my wife is ready to re-enter the workforce. Imagine if a prospective employer typed her name into the search bar in Google. It would have easily discovered her blog, and in turn, a host of protected medical and genetic information about her and our family — all information that no employer would ever want to know before making a hiring decision.

You’d never say to someone on a job application or in a job interview, ‘Tell me about all of your and your family members’ medical issues.’

You’d never say to someone on a job application or in a job interview, “Tell me about all of your and your family members’ medical issues.” But you might as well ask that question if you’re using Google to background check prospective employees.

Once the EEO bell is rung, you can’t un-ring it. If you are evaluating two applicants of relative merit, would you choose the one with, or the one without, myriad family medical issues? I know the legal answer, and I also know the practical answer.

One possible solution to this problem is to ignore the internet when hiring. While that solution would eliminate the risk of discovering protected information (race, religion, age, disability, gender, etc.) that you’d never want to know during the hiring process, it also eliminates a litany of legitimate information about which you might want to know and upon which you might want to rely: Has the individual ever trashed a former employer? Has the individual posted photos of illegal drug use? Has the individual made racist, sexist or other inappropriate posts?

In fact, there’s lots of information publicly available on the internet, good and bad, that a company might want to discover before making a hiring decision. Which begs the question — how does an employer obtain this information without simultaneously learning protected EEO information that you never want to infiltrate your hiring process?

Train someone external to the hiring channel to perform the search. They will then provide a sanitized report to those inside the hiring channel that will exclude the information that will cause the employer legal problems (for example, blog posts about my son’s genetic disorder and related medical conditions), but will include information that shines light on whether the employee is qualified, or disqualified from employment (negative reviews, drug use, racism or sexism, etc.). That way, if someone within a protected class challenges a non-hiring decision, the organization can honestly and truthfully proclaim zero knowledge of whatever public internet information the individual might seek to rely upon to create a discrimination claim.

As for Donovan? No hospital stays since.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. To comment, email Follow Hyman’s blog at