In your job search, have you come across a listing or two that lists one of its qualifications as looking for a "digital native"? If so, you may be staring at the new face of age discrimination.
While unemployment has ticked down and job growth has shot up over the past couple years, older workers, particularly in the 55 to 75 age group, have found it especially hard to rejoin the workforce. Although unemployment in this demographic isn't necessarily higher than other age groups, surveys find that these older workers experience longer stretches of unemployment. There are a number of factors that contribute to this phenomenon — including the perception that older workers are too out of touch or too expensive to re-employ — but the emphasis on more tech-savvy employees, i.e. digital natives, may also be working to discriminate against older Americans.
"The term 'digital natives' makes me cringe. This is a very risky area because we're using the term that has connotations associated with it that are very age-based," one attorney tells Fortune, adding that a job listing that calls for digital natives is "really challenging and problematic [because it implies that] only young applicants need to apply."
It's likely no coincidence that listings are increasingly using the "digital native" language in lieu of previously-favored phases like "new grad," "young blood," "college student" or "recent college graduate" — all of which the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said are in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1966. And while the EEOC has not yet decided on whether or not "digital native" constitutes a similar violation, that's only because, according to agency spokesperson Joseph Olivares, the EEOC can't investigate discrimination unless a complaint has been made first — and as of yet, no one has filed a complaint about it.
While some employers are undoubtedly using the term "digital native" as a way of masking what they're really looking for — younger, Millennial-aged applicants — others are merely using it as a catch-all for tech-savvy workers, regardless of age. For example, in a job listing for a new marketing group manager, Panasonic writes that it's looking for applicants who are digital natives but also have 10 years of "professional hands-on experience," five years in management and five years in "digital experience" — and ideally an MBA on top of all that. Some quick math would indicate that no Millennial could be physically old enough to have all that experience on their resume.
But if you believe you've been discriminated against in the workplace or in the hiring process because of your age, it behooves you to schedule an appointment with employment discrimination lawyers right away. The expert attorneys of The Meyers Law Firm can assess your claim and help you take the next steps for legal action.