If you’re recruiting for a specific age group of employees, you may want to have your attorney on speed dial. Many high tech companies continue to target younger employees because, as Mark Zuckerberg phrased it in 2007, “Young people are just smarter.”

Perhaps that’s why the EEOC age discrimination complaints have sky rocketed over the past eight years. If you’re drafting job opening advertisements, here are two real life examples of what you shouldn’t say, and samples of what you should say to avoid a call from the EEOC.

1. According to a June (2014) investigation by Fortune, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Dropbox, and Electronic Arts all had listed job openings with the phrase “new grad” in the title. Some even continued to list graduation years (“class of 2011 or 2012 preferred”) that would be acceptable. The term “new grad” overwhelmingly targets employees in their early 20’s, meaning older workers would be discouraged from applying. That creates a disparate impact and triggers age-based discrimination, which is protected by the EEOC.

What you SHOULD say: If the position you’re offering requires no experience, then say, “entry-level position” and/or “no experience required” rather than targeting a particular age group.

2. Recently in May (2015), Fortune did a search on indeed.com and found dozens of job openings that had the job requirement of “digital native” listed, including:

StratusLIVE is currently seeking a lead generation specialist to join its team and according to its ad, the ‘ideal candidate must be a digital native’ who adapts quickly to new technologies.

Zipcar, the car-sharing service, posted an ad for a director of creative and brand marketing and says this person “will be a proven creative leader and digital native.” Being a digital native also is on its list of “minimum” job requirements.

A “digital native” insinuates somebody who was raised in the digital world, which clearly targets younger employees over the generation(s) protected by the EEOC.

What you SHOULD say: If the idea is to find someone technologically savvy, change the verbiage to say “digitally knowledgeable” or “digital skills required” – or better yet, list the specific digital skills being sought.

A job advertisement should focus on actual skills or talent needed, and not the age of the person with the skills/talent. For tips on writing legally-appropriate job advertisements, please contact our HR Department.

digital native

Specifying “new grads” or “digital natives” in your job descriptions could get you into trouble.

Laura Lancaster, PHR, SHRM-CP

Author Laura Lancaster, PHR, SHRM-CP

Along with being a Master of Human Resources, Laura is a master of communicating and provides her clients with world-class customer service. She can really cut some rug on the country swing dance floor and enjoys musical theater in between motorcycle rides.

More posts by Laura Lancaster, PHR, SHRM-CP