Looking to Hire “Digital Natives” = Looking for Trouble

Posted 05-27-2015

A May, 2015 article on Fortune.com highlighted the recent trend of employers listing “digital native” as a job requirement in recruiting ads. The trend seems particularly strong in the media, advertising and tech industries. Among the employers listed in the article are Zipcar, a subsidiary of the Young & Rubicam ad agency, and the CBS-TV affiliate in Washington, DC.

So what’s the problem? According to many employment lawyers (including this one), “digital native” looks like the 21st century version of the old—and illegal—practice of ads seeking “recent college grad”. The term “digital native” was invented by education writer Marc Prensky in 2001 to describe young people who have never known a world without email, video games, computers, cell phones, social media and the other products of the digital age. By contrast, older people are “digital immigrants”, according to Presnky, who, even if they are comfortable with using technology, “will always retain, to some degree, their ‘accent,’ that is, their foot in the past.”

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long taken the position that it is illegal for employers to publish job advertisements inviting or discouraging applicants because of protected characteristics such as race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, age 40 and up, disability or genetic information, pointing out that: “For example, a help-wanted ad that seeks …’recent college graduates’ may discourage… people over 40 from applying and may violate the law.”

So, rather than use a clearly age-related term in your job ads, look for the necessary skills and experience, instead.

What this means to you: To be successful, managers must develop staffing strategies that will support them in selecting top talent, avoiding the wrong candidates, and minimizing legal risk. Fair Measures offers training on how to conduct legal and effective interviews. A crucial employment law training class, it includes case studies, small group exercises, and practice interview sessions, all led by our experienced attorney-trainers. To learn more or to book a workshop, call us today at 800-458-2778, or email training@fairmeasures.com.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.