‘Digital native’ – new way to say older workers need not apply

Shakespeare wrote, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The same cannot be said for some of the euphemisms we have for the more delicate matters in our lives. For example, a doctor might tell you that an exam has discovered a “cluster of cells” or an “abnormal growth.” What that means is cancer is suspected.

The application of euphemisms isn’t uncommon in employment law, either. The key is in being able to decipher them. Here is one getting use in a number of sectors now, especially the media, advertising and the tech world — digital native. What does that mean? Fortune magazine says it’s used by prospecting employers to suggest to older applicants that they need not apply.

The magazine says that it used to be that Facebook, Apple and other big players in the tech sector would craft job ads to read that they preferred new college graduates. But language like that spurred an anti-discrimination lawsuit against Facebook. Since then there’s been a shift toward the use of digital native.

But a number of employment law analysts note that use of the phrase is questionable and could be construed as age discrimination. At the very least, one says, it’s a loaded term.

Fortune reports that it was coined in 2001 to refer to someone born into the digital world. Those born before the Internet era are considered “digital immigrants.” They might have the capacity to adapt, but they don’t speak tech natively. For that reason they may be viewed as less desirable hires.

This seems to be reflected in statistics. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says age discrimination complaints have been on the rise. In 1997, just under 16,000 claims were filed. In 2014, the number had reached nearly 21,000. More than 100 cases in which charges were actually filed stemmed from job postings alleging to be discriminatory by age.

Protecting individual rights in age discrimination claims can be hard to prove. Doing that in regard to a job posting may be particularly challenging depending on the legal argument an employer seeks to employ. If you feel you’ve been a victim of any form of discrimination, you should speak with an attorney.

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