Employment Advertising

Under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) and a number of federal laws, it is unlawful to discriminate against potential employees and employees on the basis of certain factors. The federal regulations generally correspond with Pennsylvania ’s regulations, and a violation of one is typically a violation of the other.

It is unlawful for any employer* to refuse to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual based upon the following factors:

  • age
  • sex
  • race
  • national origin
  • color
  • ancestry
  • religion/creed
  • non-job related handicap or disability (refers to physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, having a record of such an impairment, being regarded as having such an impairment, and the use of a guide or support animal due to blindness, deafness or physical handicap). Note: this category includes diseases, such as AIDS.

*The term employer includes labor organizations, employment agencies, or joint labor-management committees controlling apprenticeship or other training or retraining, including on-the-job training programs.

General Rule: It is illegal to print, publish, or cause to be printed or published any notice or advertisement relating to employment or membership indicating any preference, limitation, specification or discrimination based upon the above factors. However, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, advertisements may indicate a preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination based on religion, sex, or national origin when religion, sex, or national origin is a bona fide occupational qualification for employment.

Race/Color/Religion/National Origin/Ancestry

  • General Rule: NEVER describe people (unless the advertisement is for disabled/handicapped people). Only describe the characteristics relevant to the job. For example, do not publish advertisements stating "white and black girls wanted," "bible-quoting truck driver," "born and raised in the U.S.A. " or "ideal for immigrants."
  • Religious/ethnic greetings: Avoid religious and ethnic greetings such as Merry Christmas, shalom, hola, etc. Greetings for state holidays, such as Happy Fourth of July and Happy Thanksgiving are non-discriminatory.

Age: The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees over the age of forty from discrimination based upon age.

However, employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations may advertise age restrictions when:

  • age is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business;
  • the differentiation is based on reasonable factors other than age; or
  • it is required to observe the terms of certain bona fide seniority systems or bona fide employee benefit plans (see 29 U.S.C. §623(f) for more details).

Note: These exceptions are relatively rare, and it is usually best not to mention any age restrictions in advertisements.

Eliciting Information: It is illegal to elicit any information (including through forms and applications) or make any records of the above factors (including past handicaps) prior to employment. This includes requesting photographs of potential employees. However, employers may inquire as to the individual’s ability to perform the essential functions of the employment.

G.E.D.'s: It is illegal to discriminate against an employee or prospective employee because the individual has a diploma based upon passing a general educational development test (G.E.D.) as compared to a high school diploma.

Students: Using the word "student" in an advertisement infers age discrimination. Rewrite advertisements to describe the circumstances that would attract students, such as "summer employment," "part-time employment," "flexible work schedule," etc. If stating that a specific type of student is preferred or required (such as an accounting or engineering student), the advertisement may be appropriate because it is describing a qualification for the job.

Relationships/Association to Other People: It is illegal to exclude or otherwise deny equal jobs or benefits to a person because of the handicap or disability of an individual with whom the person is known to have a relationship or association.

Family Status: Advertisements for a certain family status, such as "married couple" or "single bachelor" are illegal. Avoid advertisements that would give an indication of a preferred family status such as "newlyweds" or "stay at home mothers."

Sex: It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. Therefore, avoid publishing advertisements such as "mothers wanted," "males only," and "strong, masculine type wanted." Also, avoid using terms like "guy/gal." Use "male/female" instead.

Credit History: Anti-discrimination laws do not prevent an employer from reviewing a potential employee's credit report. Therefore, employers may advertise for people with a good credit history. Note: When reviewing potential employees' credit reports, employers must comply with the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Illegal Use of Drugs : Employers are allowed to discriminate against people who use drugs illegally. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not prevent this type of discrimination.

Unqualified Personnel: Employers are allowed to refuse to hire and dismiss people who are not able to function properly in the job applied for or engaged in.

Groups that are exempt from the above advertising rules:

  • Religious Groups: A religious corporation or association may hire or employ on the basis of sex in those certain instances where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification because of the religious beliefs, practices, or observances of the corporation or association. Religious institutions, such as schools, are not considered employers for the purposes of the employment advertising sections of the PHRA.
  • Apprenticeship programs: Apprenticeship programs of two years or more approved by the State Apprenticeship and Training Council of the Department of Labor and Industry may place age limitations upon entrance into the program.
  • Handicapped/disable persons: Institutions and organizations for handicapped or disabled persons may limit or give preference in employment or membership to handicapped or disabled persons.

Words and Phrases to Avoid in Employment Advertisements:

The following is a list of words and phrases that may be considered discriminatory and should therefore be carefully considered or avoided in any employment advertisement:

Able-bodied Empty nester Mormon
Adult—unless there is a bona fide reason for needing someone over the age of 21 Ethnic neighborhood


African-American Ethnic group (any) Nationality (any)
Asian Foreigners Newlyweds
American Girl/guy Perfect for (a type of person)
Ancestry (any) Handicapped Polish
Black Hindi Prefer (a type of person)
Blind Hispanic


Buddhist Ideal for ... (a type of person) Puerto Rican
Catholic Immigrants Race (any, when used to describe a . person)
Caucasian Indian Religion (any, when used to . . . describe persons)
Chicano/Chicana Integrated Retarded
Chinese Interracial Retired persons, retirees
Christian Irish Segregated
Color—Any when used to describe . a person Jew/Jewish Senior
Colored Latino/Latina


Couple Married Student
Crippled Mentally handicapped, ill, retarded Suitable for
Deaf Mexican-American White
Disability (any) Middle Eastern(er) Young
Disabled Minority Youthful

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