I am a business owner looking to hire a tech savvy employee to assist my company with marketing through social media outlets. I want to hire someone who is familiar with the latest social media services and how to use them, but have heard that a job posting for a “digital native” could expose me to an age discrimination claim. Is this true, and, if so, what are the best practices to lawfully target applicants with the skill set I am looking for?


Both state and federal law preclude discrimination in employment on the basis of any protected class, including race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, and age. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act both expressly preclude discrimination against “older workers,” defined as workers age 40 and over. These protections extend to both existing employees and job applicants.
Often a discriminatory job advertisement will be obvious because it expressly targets one of the protected classes. For example, it would clearly be unlawful for a job advertisement to state that only applicants of a certain race or gender should apply. In other instances, the discriminatory nature of the job advertisement may be more subtle or indirect, but may have the same effect. For example, advertisements for “recent graduates” and “young professionals” have been found to be discriminatory because they have the effect of eliminating older workers from the applicant pool.
“Digital native” is a relatively new term that is generally understood to refer to someone who grew up in the era of digital technology and became well versed in internet applications from an early age. Like a native speaker of a particular language, digital natives were immersed in and learned digital technology from birth rather than picking it up later in life.
So defined, use of this term in the context of a job advertisement could be construed as discriminatory on the basis of age because it generally targets individuals born after 1980. Even if your intent is not specifically to hire a younger worker, the advertisement can expose you to increased risk because the language used may discourage older workers from applying.
Best practices to follow to avoid discrimination claims in job advertisements include the following:

  • Substantively describe the specific skill set required for the position. If you are looking for tech savvy individuals, state that qualified applicants must be “familiar with the latest technology” or “competent in social media marketing.” You can list the specific computer programs the position will deal with or require minimum experience in the field.
  • Avoid labels. Even if a particular label is not expressly discriminatory, it may indirectly implicate a protected class. If a label has the effect of precluding certain protected classes from your applicant pool, it could be construed as discriminatory.

If you target the skill set you need instead of a category of person, you will minimize exposure to discrimination claims, and you will more successfully recruit the talent you are looking for.
Additional information on the state and federal age discrimination rules and regulations is available at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing website at, or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website at