Labor law seems to be one of those areas that companies continuously trip over, for no good reason. Either they misunderstand basic requirements, like what really constitutes an exempt position versus hourly, or they want to pretend that some laws don't actually apply.
The latest example is a new hiring trend of looking for "digital natives". As Fortune reports, in some industries, like high tech, theirs is a history of companies that have a preference for younger employees. Just last year, Facebook, Yahoo, Dropbox, and Electronic Arts ran recruitment ads with new grad in the title. A couple of years ago, Facebook settled a lawsuit because, when looking for a lawyer, the ad read, "class of 2007 or 2008 preferred."
Saying that you want to hire someone young--for whatever reason--is illegal and can land you in trouble with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As Fortune pointed out:
The EEOC has said that using phrases like "college student," "recent college graduate," or "young blood" violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1966 (ADEA). That federal law protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age.
Apparently a growing list of employers are now using the term "digital native," meaning someone who grew up with widespread consumer use of the Internet, in their ads. Among them are a Gannett-owned CBS affiliate, Zipcar, and ad agency Wunderman (part of Young & Rubicam). And, apparently, a list of employment lawyers told Fortune that employers using the term in their recruitment advertising leave themselves open to charges of age discrimination.
The EEOC told Fortune that it hasn't taken a position on "digital native" terminology--yet. But that's only because no one has formally complained.
This seems like a managerial landmine that entrepreneurs should be able to walk around. It's also foolish. If you think older workers don't have anything going for them, then you're short-sighted. Not only do you get experience and a tested attitude, but older workers are more likely to be innovative. And if you're really worried about paying too much for someone with experience, just say what the range is and let those who can command more ignore you. But, for heaven's sake, don't stride along, oblivious of reality, and plant your foot in a mud-filled sinkhole.