Language to Avoid in Job Postings


Many organizations use "illegal" words in want ads.
Many organizations use “illegal” words in want ads.

When I do compliance audits one of the things I look at is any Help Wanted ads that have been written. I have learned that when writing a job posting quite often the author writes it from their point of view. After all it is their job and their company, so why not write the job posting to reflect what they want? The problem is that the biases of the writer may become apparent in the language that is used in the job posting.
Prohibited Practices
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the governmental agency that oversees Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the protections provided for “protected categories.” On their web page entitled  Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices they give some specific examples of how employers can get in trouble with language in the recruitment process. They specifically say “It is illegal for an employer to publish a job advertisement that shows a preference for or discourages someone from applying for a job because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”  These examples, all pulled from actual job postings, give examples of some prohibited language and the reason why:

  • Two to five years of Human Resources experience in a manufacturing environment. (This implies that someone with more experience, most likely and older candidate would not be welcome)
  •  3-5 years of related experience in Human Resources and Payroll (Also implies an age limitation thus discouraging older workers.)
  • HOUSEWIFES, HOUSEWIFES, HOUSEWIFES (Obviously gender specific and would discourage men who stay at home)
  • Reliable transportation (Unless the transportation is needed to conduct the work this requirement could discourage minorities from applying.)
  • If you would like to be considered for our team of entertainers, text your first name, your height and weight, your age, your city of residence, and your contact information (Height, weight and age are not requirements to be stated unless they are what are known at BFOQs, bona fide occupational qualifications. The EEOC takes a very dim view of their use.)
  • Light Counter Help- Bus Boy (Gender specific)
  • Waitresses (Gender specific)
  • Housekeeper and Houseman positions (Gender specific)

Other prohibited words
Other areas and words that get employers in trouble include:

  • Citizenship phrases, such as “American born”
  • Gender based job titles, such as “draftsman” , “fireman”, “Three man office”
  • Religion based phrases, such as “Christian values”
  • Physical condition, such as “must be in good health”
  • Other stipulations, such as “must be from the suburbs”

In job postings it is important to keep your language job-related. Describe the work to be done and the work habits and characteristics necessary to accomplish the work. Avoid describing characteristics, especially physical characteristics, of the potential employee.
As an employer you are not only held liable for the your actions but for the actions of all employees involved in the recruitment process and for those people who are acting as your agents. This means that any recruitment agency that is working on your behalf must also comply with the EEOC standards. If they don’t not only can they have legal difficulties but those difficulties can be extended to you the actual employer. So review and approve any job postings they are using on your behalf.

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