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The Blurred Lines in Online Job Postings

Our job application advice regularly states that you should not apply to jobs for which you aren’t the least bit qualified. Clients provide job descriptions with mandatory requirements and qualifications to perform the task for good reason — the successful IT contractor needs to do the work successfully and those requirements weed out the unqualified candidates. While job seekers should respect points that exclude them based on skill, there is no place for discriminatory exclusions within a job posting.

Generally, in Canada, it is illegal for any employer to post a job posting that discriminates against applicants. More specifically, in Ontario, the Ontario Human Rights Commission(OHRC) says “Job ads and postings should not contain statements, qualifications or references that relate either directly or indirectly to race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, record of offences, age, marital status, family status or disability.” Although it’s rare today to see job postings with statements like “must be a strong man” or “good-looking women only”, subtle nuances can exist and it’s up to the employer or staffing agency to ensure they are following the law.

More controversial in the past year has not been thewhatof a job posting, but more thewhere. The same OHRC website also provides information about how employers should post jobs to avoid discrimination, suggesting they avoid simple word-of-mouth-referrals and personal networks, as well as advertising only in mainstream media. Each of these forms could exclude qualified candidates.

More interesting, though, is a CBC investigation published in April 2019 related to discrimination using Facebook ads. When a company posts a job to Facebook, it is visible and available to the entire user base; however, the lines blur when looking at paid ads for those job postings. A benefit to Facebook advertising is being able to drill down on the demographics of a target audience. CBC learned that employers — including at all levels of government — have targeted prospective employees based on age or gender. The text of the ads is non-discriminatory, but the targeting came into question. Facebook already announced that it would be disallowing this kind of job targeting in the United States. As of June 2019, the Canadian and Ontario human rights commissions had taken steps to see the same happen in Canada.

The action you decide to take when you come across a discriminating job posting depends your morals and ethics. Some might decide to do nothing or apply regardless, some might contact the posting organization letting them know (they may have been reckless or ignorant and will appreciate the feedback), and others will follow-up on their right to report it.

Before going a step further and engaging a lawyer, though, consider this. Molyneau Law wrote an informative post after the original CBC article that describes the Facebook ad situation, the implications, as well as some examples of past legal cases where discrimination in the hiring process was evident. While unethical job posters should be called out, the post warns that a full legal battle is rarely worth it. “Unfortunately for job applicants, it can be hard to prove discriminatory recruitment or hiring practices. You rarely know who else has applied or been interviewed for a position. And hiring is a pretty subjective practice at most employers. Even when job applicants are successful in proving discrimination, they often don’t see huge damage awards.”

This subject opens an interesting discussion for Canadian IT contractors and all job seekers. Where do you think the line should be drawn in discrimination of job postings? Is it alright if a company chooses to promote its public ad towards a specific demographic, as per the Facebook example? Do you come across discrimination in job postings and how do you deal with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.