We came across a Q and A columnist for the BusinessTelegram.com, published online by the Worchester [Mass.] Telegram & Gazette, who wrote about a job seeking reader who noted a job ad which said “’We seek enthusiastic employees for a young, dynamic company,” and who asked: ” I now suspect that’s code for no oldies need apply. Yes?”
The columnist, Joyce Lain Kennedy, replied that there are various less than obvious ways that age discrimination is evidenced in the workplace, and said that “A job ad may not blatantly violate the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, but it can use a language workaround.”
As readers know, we have kept a running list for some time of such “language workaround,” which we call code words, and have advised employers to avoid them at all costs so as to avoid liability. On September 17, 2013 we wrote: “Age cases would not be age cases if not for the vast number of creative ways employers refer to employees as ‘old.’ Seems like there is no limit to how employers – and society – refer disparagingly to older people.”
An appeals court decision at the time gave us a chance to list our favorite age-related code. It involved a fired 76-years old security guard whose supervisor said to him that he “needed to hang up his Superman cape.” We asked readers to “Add that to our ever-growing list: “ancient,” “old school,” “set in his ways,” “not a proper fit for the “new environment,” “lacking in energy,” “not being up to date,” “sounds old on the telephone,” “is like a bag of bones,” and “a little long in the tooth.””
We later added: “he does not have enough runway,” and “how’s his shelf life?”
Keeping all of this in mind, employers might like to read more of Ms. Kennedy’s comments from Worcester. She quotes recruiter and cofounder of Recruitloop.com Paul Slezak who “explains the dodge” in his blog entitled “No Indians or Asians: Avoiding Discrimination in Job Ads”:
“One phrase I see regularly is ‘person sought for young, vibrant company.’ Obviously, because they know they can’t advertise for a young person (which would be against the law), they get around it by describing their company as young and vibrant, thus implying that they are looking for similar applicants, sending a clear message to me that older applicants need not apply.”
Ms. Kennedy lists what she calls “MORE AGEIST TRICKS,” and as an employer you may want to read this and know what to avoid.