Ask the Director Questions and Answers on Civil Rights from Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights

By Linda V. Parker

Q: I want to write an advertisement for an open position in my company. What can I do to ensure that my advertisement is nondiscriminatory or offensive?

A: Generally, it is unlawful to indicate any preference or restriction based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, familial status, marital status, arrest record, height, or weight. Advertisements may be offensive if they mimic accents, portray negative stereotypes of racial or ethnic groups, or portray individuals who are scantily clad or dressed provocatively.

Q: How can I make certain that my advertisement reaches the most diverse audience possible?

A: It is good for business to include people of color, women, and people with disabilities in visual and audio ads, particularly in non-traditional roles. Advertising that you provide equal opportunity to your market encourages applications from a wide range of candidates, which is always beneficial to an employer.

Q: What are examples of some qualifications that are illegal to include in my advertisement?

A: You could violate the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 if you included any of the following: “Help wanted male,” “Whites only,” “Single Individual,” “College student,” Recent college graduate,” “Slender build,” and “U.S. citizens only.” You could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Act if you included “Ale-bodied,” “Strong workers” or “Must pass physical” in your advertisement.

Q: What if the success of my business depends on hiring a person of a particular sex or weight?

A: You may be able to advertise for an employee of a particular sex, religion, national origin, height, weight, marital status, or age if it is reasonably necessary for the normal operation of your business. This is called a “bona fide occupational qualification.” For example, an employer might be able to advertise for a “female attendant for a ladies’ restroom.” Note that race or color can never be a bona fide occupational qualification. An employer may apply to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission for approval of a bona fide occupational qualification exemption.  For more information on the approval process, please call 1-800-482-3604.