Legal: Only Young Females Should Read This Article

If the title of this article sounds ridiculous, it is. It’s an absurd way to highlight the even more absurd ways that some employers still infuse discrimination in their job ads. So with back-to-school season upon us, this is a good time to remind some companies of the most basic rule regarding job ads: Don’t use discriminatory language.

This is apparently a difficult lesson for lots of employers. 

Take, for example, Resume Target. They have an announcement on Glassdoor that reads:

“Our downtown Toronto office offers an open, collaborative, and relaxed environment where our young, positive, and hard-working team strive toward a common goal of empowering clients in their job search.”

“Young.” Is Resume Target admitting it wants only a young workforce? Is it admitting that it regularly engages in age discrimination? Either way, this ad includes discriminatory language. It is completely possible for Resume Target to take out the word “young” and avoid the ire of government officials. 

How about this one: Vestra Inet advertised a content writer and SEO specialist position, explaining the following:

“Please note that the Position requires filling in the responsibilities of a receptionist, so female candidates are preferred.” 

“Female candidates.” Vestra Inet quickly took down its LinkedIn ad after receiving a ton of feedback (including via a Vox.com article). There is no lawful reason a receptionist must be a woman other than the discriminatory stereotype some hiring manager had in his head. (Gendered pronoun intended.) 

The company did eventually issue an apology, if that’s what you want to call this:

“Several individuals have found the wording of the ad to be offensive, and we want to assure everyone that we did not mean to discriminate against any particular gender or group. Vestra Inet is a company that believes in promoting diversity.”

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Weak.

Or what about Ruby Tuesday’s internal job ad a while back for seasonal bartender and server positions that articulated “an explicit and exclusive preference for female applicants” per an EEOC lawsuit? Even though Ruby Tuesday was just trying to avoid finding hard-to-find housing for men and women, their efforts to hire only women were totally unlawful, resulting in a $100,000 settlement.

Job ads are the first impression of an employer for many applicants. People are less likely to apply when they read discriminatory language, as it sets a tone that an employer that does not treat employees fairly. Job ads are also low-hanging fruit for anti-discrimination agencies like the EEOC, which will come knocking when it learns of a discriminatory ad. 

So, before you post an ad, look through the words. Does it include anything that references or excludes a protected class? If so, take that out. It’s that simple.

Also avoid discriminatory-adjacent words, like “digital native” or “only happy people should apply.” The former implies applicants should have grown up with technology and as a result, they must be young. Hiring only happy people could exclude individuals with depression and anxiety, conditions that are considered disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

It is not difficult to avoid words that could imply discrimination. You don’t have to run every job ad by your employment lawyer. Work closely with the hiring manager, and politely point out when references to protected classes appear. 

Kate Bischoff, ERE's legal columnist, is an overly enthusiastic, sarcastic, and opinionated management-side employment attorney and human resources professional. She works closely with management, HR, and technology companies to improve organizations and make it easier to recruit and retain talent through easy-to-understand policies, easy-to-use technology, and easy-to-explain compliance initiatives.

Prior to starting her own business, Kate served as the HR officer for the Consulate General Jerusalem and U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia. Kate has also been recognized by The New York Times, CNN.com, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, National Public Radio, and other journalistic sources as a leading authority on harassment, technology in the workplace, and employment law.

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