Facebook and other online job advertisers are facing criticism because they are allowing recruiters to place job adverts that are only visible to users within a certain age bracket. Commentators have suggested that this could be in breach of US anti-discrimination legislation.

Of course, the UK also has its own legislation against age discrimination. Age was the last characteristic to become protected (some 40 years after sex and race) and is still the one that employers tend to forget about.

Placing a job advert in a publication or on a website that appeals to a certain demographic is one thing (although it could still perhaps be used as evidence of age discrimination, alongside other factors). But to actively tick a box to make a job advert not visible to those outside of a certain age range shows clear intent to discriminate on the part of the prospective employer.

As employment solicitors, we would advise against this sort of targeted advertising where the targeting relates to any protected characteristic. Most recruiters would never dream of advertising a job in such a way as to suggest a candidate of a certain race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation would be preferred. But age is one area where employers are still inclined to profile applicants.

Job adverts also need to be worded carefully:

  • references to maximum number of years' experience can unfairly prejudice older applicants;
  • even specifying a minimum number of years' experience can be risky - it should only be a requirement if it really necessary for the role;
  • describing the type of applicant you want can be risky - "would suit recent graduate" implies a younger candidate will be preferred;
  • even words like "mature", "active", or "energetic" can suggest a certain age profile.

Some of the top US companies, including Verizon, Amazon, and Facebook, are placing recruitment ads on Facebook that can only be seen by people of certain ages, typically younger workers.