As a professional woman over the age of 40, I’m starting to hear questions from my friends and colleagues about age discrimination. Recently, a coworker told me a story that was pretty alarming. A senior manager was let go and afterward, the CEO of the company was quoted in an industry publication saying he was going to bring in “fresh blood” to fill the position. That phrase alone could have opened up the company for an age discrimination lawsuit.
According to the latest U.S. Census, the population is older and more diverse than ever. As an HR professional, I know that embracing changing demographics in the workplace creates a vibrant team that can approach challenges from a multifaceted perspective, giving companies a competitive edge. It’s what makes companies great. However, the ever-changing workforce also makes diversity training more important than ever so employees from every generation can work together effectively.
Age Discrimination is Illegal
The Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law and was passed in 1967 to protect people 40-year-old or older from discrimination based on their age. The ADEA applies to employers with more than 20 employees, however, your state may have different, more stringent requirements.
Employment laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Once you become familiar with laws enforced by the EEOC, make sure you have policies in place to be compliant with these laws.
Here are some of the things the EEOC reviews to ensure non-discriminatory practices are being followed:
- Job advertisements and postings
- Employment references
- Job referrals
- Discipline and discharge
- Application and hiring practices
- Job assignments and promotions
- Pay and benefits
- Recruiting practices
- Training programs
Did you know?
- You can’t put an age restriction on who can apply for most apprenticeship programs and only choose to interview younger people.
- You can’t force older people to retire when they reach a certain age.
- If you’re planning a voluntary reduction of your staff and plan to offer early retirement packages to older employees, consult a labor and employment lawyer to stay within ADEA guidelines.
What is Age Discrimination?
Despite the passage of the ADEA, age discrimination still takes place creating a major concern for older employees. If you are 40+ years old and have been harmed by a decision affecting your employment, you may have grounds to file an age discrimination case. According to AARP, two out of every three older workers have experienced discrimination in the workplace.
Here are some common examples and warning signs of age discrimination:
- You didn’t get hired because the employer wanted a younger-looking candidate and referred to you as an old man.
- You received negative performance reviews because you weren’t “flexible” in taking on new projects.
- You were fired because your boss wanted to keep more young workers who are paid less.
- You were turned down for promotion, which went to someone younger, hired from outside of the company, because the boss said the company “needs new blood.”
- When company layoffs are announced, most of the people laid off were older, while younger employees with less seniority and fewer years of experience were retained.
- Before you were fired, you detected signs of ageism when your supervisor made derogatory remarks about your age, for example calling you “over-the-hill” or “ancient” while sarcastically complimenting your wealth of experience.
- You overheard a group of managers make derogatory remarks about your higher salary and your “old school” ways.
What Do You Do if You Suspect Workplace Discrimination?
If you feel like you have evidence of age discrimination, before you take legal action, your first step is to meet with someone in Human Resources and discuss workers’ rights. Their job is to prevent behaviors that may result in creating a hostile work environment. HR professionals are trained to review policies and intervene if age discrimination has taken place. They are also tasked with providing training to managers in order to prevent similar situations of unfair treatment from occurring in the future.
Preventing Age Discrimination Before It Occurs
As an employer, it’s your job to ensure your staff, especially managers, know how to work with diverse populations. Partnering with a company like ours, with comprehensive libraries of off-the-shelf training courses, is an investment in the prevention of costly age discrimination lawsuits that can damage your organization’s reputation.
Workplace discrimination occurs when an employee or group of employees is treated less favorably than similarly situated employees – in this case, those of a different age group. Discriminatory practices include bias in hiring, firing, job assignment, transfer, layoff, recall, fringe benefits, retirement plans, leave, or any other terms or conditions of employment.
In addition to being against the law, workplace discrimination can be costly, resulting in poor productivity, loss of good employees, and a hostile work environment. If an employee brings a wrongful termination claim against your organization, you can also face expensive legal fees and jury awards.
What can you do to make sure your workplace is free from age discrimination and your hiring process is fair?
- Enact a no tolerance policy regarding discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
- Share policies verbally, in employee handbooks, and in signage around the workplace.
- Communicate guidelines for filing a complaint and set expectations for investigating any claims.
- Apply policies consistently to applicants and employees.
- Make sure your policies and procedures are clearly written, communicated, and distributed throughout the entire organization, such as in an employee handbook.
- Communicate the process for submitting discrimination claims, how claims are investigated, and reinforce the non-retaliation policy.
- Check the EEOC website for fact sheets, legal briefs, and employment law posters that can be hung in employee gathering areas around your workplace.
- Provide training for your employees and managers to ensure they are following best practices in their day-to-day interactions.
- Keep appropriate documentation on employee performance, both good and bad, so if an age discrimination claim is made, you have proof to support the decisions you’ve made.
Age Discrimination Repercussions
A complaint of discrimination can be devastating to your company. You could face legal issues and financial penalties. The news could make the news or go viral on the internet. The negative publicity could damage your reputation resulting in loss of customers, poor employee morale, inability to attract top candidates, and lost productivity. Age discrimination shouldn’t be tolerated because it’s illegal, and more importantly because it’s the right thing to do.
In addition to offering comprehensive anti-discrimination training, we offer a library of courses that help managers understand how to manage employees from multiple generations, as well as additional diversity training videos. Sign up for a free trial today.