Place Ads – the Legal Way


Perhaps you just started your own company or need a hand for a project. Every day hundreds of thousands of people advertise in the yellow pages, local newspapers, and other media outlets. However, before you post an advertisement, you should be aware of the federal and state laws that apply to advertisements.

It may seem that common sense should get you by, but subtle distinctions in the words you use in your ads could get you into legal trouble. In this article we’ll explore the ins and outs of advertising to hire individuals in the workplace.

Next, we’ll explore and give a brief overview of some federal laws that may affect your advertisement in your next search for hire.

Federal Laws That May Apply

Federal, state, and local laws protect individuals against discrimination. Some federal anti-discrimination laws may apply to your business when placing ads for job applicants.

In general, Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq, (commonly called Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of: race or color, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and national origin.

Title VII applies to:
  • private employers with 15 or more employees
  • the federal government
  • employment agencies
  • labor unions
  • state agencies; and
  • labor management committees.
The American with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 (commonly called the ADA) protects individuals from being discriminated against on the basis of disabilities.

The ADA applies to:
  • private employers with 15 or more employees
  • government agencies
  • employment agencies; and
  • labor unions.
If you place an ad that discriminates against an individual under Title VII or the ADA or any other federal, state or local laws, you may face a lawsuit from that individual. Therefore, it is imperative that you chose your language carefully and/or consult a local attorney for any ads that may be questionable.

Next, we’ll go over some basic rules that you should follow when placing ads in the public.

2 Basic Rules to Follow When Placing Ads

Keep these rules in mind when placing an ad in your local newspaper or any other media outlet.

Rule 1: Pay attention to the meaning of the words that you use.

Many employers can get in trouble here. Think about all the synonyms of the word or how the word might be interpreted by others. Try to stay away from words that have meanings that could be viewed as discriminatory. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Example 1
Poor: Looking for salesman.
Better: Looking for salesperson.

Example 2:
Poor: Only those under 30 may apply.
Better: Looking for child actors.

Example 3:
Poor: We offer guaranteed $5K bonuses and matching 401(k) plans. (If you make promises like this, make sure to keep them. Otherwise, it might be better to use more general language like below).
Better: We offer great employee benefits and incentives.

Rule 2: Focus on the essential functions of the job.

This means you should steer clear of labeling the job as anything else than what it really is. Only focus on the characteristics of the job that are essential to what you are looking for.

For example, if you’re looking for an editor for a local newspaper, you would not include height or weight restrictions on your ad, unless somehow height and weight restrictions were essential to the function of the job (which would likely be very difficult to show under these circumstances).

As another example, if you’re looking for some landscaping help, you might require that person to carry heavy tools and or deal with certain types of machinery. So, certain physical characteristics could come into play in your decision to hire.

If you’re looking for some part-time construction help, then you could likely list that the person might be required to carry heavy loads, wear a protective helmet, and have transportation to get to different job sites.

In the end, if something is questionable, it is generally better to refrain from using language that could discriminate against someone, or contact your local attorney to determine the legality of the ad.

Next, we’ll wrap up this article with a few things to keep in mind.


This article gave a brief overview of some laws and rules to keep in mind when placing ads to hire in the public. Make sure to pay attention to the words you use when placing ads in order to comply with the law. Also, read related articles for more details on advertising and employment laws.

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