Discrimination in the workplace is illegal, whether it is intentional or not. Unfortunately, some employers do not recognize certain words or exchanges as discriminatory, especially when they have no intention of treating anyone unfairly.

Educating one’s self about microaggressions, implicit bias, and cultural illiteracy can help employers avoid potential legal claims. For example:

Age-related words

Employers should never use words that discriminate against older workers in a job posting. For instance, avoid using the phrases:

  • Recent graduates
  • Newly qualified
  • Young people

Instead, consider describing the job as “entry level.” Furthermore, when discussing an employee or prospective employee, steer clear of descriptors like “set in his or her ways” and “teaching an old dog new tricks.” These phrases can suggest a discriminatory mindset toward older workers, which is unlawful.

Gender-related descriptors

Job titles should not be gender-specific, unless gender is a requirement of the role. Instead of seeking a waitress or salesman, seek a server or sales person. Job postings should also be addressed to “you” or to the “candidate,” rather than using gender-specific pronouns.

Additionally, think about where you are publishing your job opening and other information. Are you advertising only in publications targeted to male readers? Are you only posting leave-related information near the women’s restroom? If so, you could be accused of discrimination.

National origin or race descriptors

Avoiding words that discriminate against people from other countries or from a specific race is also crucial. As such, avoid stating that you are seeking someone who speaks “English as their first language” or is a U.S. citizen. You should also refrain from placing any restrictions on appearance, hairstyles or clothing.

As a rule, employers should always focus job postings and descriptions on the details of the job, rather than the worker. Using superfluous language or descriptors that are irrelevant to the job itself can send the wrong message and exclude qualified candidates.

In short, discriminatory language may not only cause an employer to miss out on a valuable addition to their workforce, it may also cause an employer to wind up facing in court. To lessen the chance of inadvertently discriminating against employees or job candidates, many employers work with an attorney to review their job postings and other materials. We are here to help.