Job Sites Respond to Age Discrimination Claims

By Roy Maurer Mar 30, 2017
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Leading job board sites CareerBuilder and Indeed have replied to allegations made by a state official that their software perpetuates age bias.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office alleged in letters sent March 1 that older job seekers are deterred from using resume tools and creating profiles on the nation's largest job search sites—CareerBuilder, Indeed and Monster—because of their age, potentially violating the Illinois Human Rights Act and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Three other job sites, Beyond.com, Ladders Inc. and Vault, were also sent letters requesting information about the companies' practices.

[SHRM members-only presentation: Federal Discrimination Laws]

Madigan's office alleged that the dates built in to drop-down menus to indicate the years for previous work experience and education on the sites exclude older job seekers from entering their information.

In one example provided by the attorney general, 1980 was the earliest possible choice for users' education or previous employment start dates, effectively barring anyone older than 50 from using the tool. Other sites used dates ranging from 1950 to 1970 as cutoffs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 20 percent of Americans older than the traditional retirement age of 65 are still working, more than at any time since the early 1960s.

Madigan's office asked in its letter to CareerBuilder why users cannot choose a high school graduation date prior to 1955, saying that the cutoff excludes those who are 81 or older from full use of the site's services.

"CareerBuilder is committed to helping workers of all ages find job opportunities and has fixed this unfortunate oversight," said Michael Erwin, director of global corporate communications and social media for the Chicago-based job search site.

Austin, Texas-based Indeed's resume builder drop-down menu went back to 1956. "This did not prevent anyone from manually noting an earlier date on a resume, but we did extend that menu to 1900 after hearing of the concern in the letter," said senior public relations manager Alex Ortolani.

"Indeed's mission is to help people get jobs, and we strongly believe that age should not be a factor in evaluation of employment," he said.

But Patricia Barnes, an attorney and author of Overcoming Age Discrimination in Employment (self-published, 2016), believes that job boards and careers sites routinely use screening tools to discriminate against older workers. "It's hard to imagine a scenario in which an employer needs to know when an applicant graduated from high school, college or graduate school," Barnes said.

"Conceivably, a college can maintain a database of people who have specific degrees without divulging dates of graduation. In any case, this is not an issue that arises when one applies for a job online. It may or may not arise in the screening process."

She added that employers do not need to know all of a worker's experience dating back to graduation in most cases. "This information is not relevant except in rare situations, such as for national security clearance."

Barnes explained that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allows these types of questions on employment applications or online resume builders while cautioning that they can be used as evidence of age discrimination.

"This is virtually meaningless because employers know the vast majority of applicants have no ability to find out why they weren't hired."

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