Avoiding Age Discrimination

Joe Weinlick
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Avoiding age discrimination does more than just ensure your company follows U.S. employment laws; it also gives your team an advantage over others as part of your diversity and inclusion strategy. Discrimination based on age normally affects older workers. It can also create a bias that younger workers are the only ones who can fill certain entry-level jobs. Discover how to keep this type of discrimination from happening at your office.

Legal Aspects

Legally, age discrimination is a decision not to hire or promote someone based solely on their age as opposed to their lack of skills. Age is a protected class, just like someone's gender, race, religion, ethnicity and disability. If a person doesn't have the skills for the job or doesn't show a cultural fit, an employer must be able to explain how this was demonstrated in the candidate's behavior, interview responses or resume.

Federal laws govern age discrimination for people age 40 and older, and they apply to employers that have 20 or more employees. States may have additional protections that are more stringent than federal statutes. This kind of discrimination is not just about hiring, but also about termination, giving employee benefits, training and development opportunities, and job assignments.

Telltale Signs of Age Discrimination

Discrimination against people's age doesn't have to be overt to be present in your office. Look around and see if the ages of everyone you work with are relatively homogeneous. If most of your co-workers look the same or have the same basic ages, then your office may have some kind of unconscious bias toward people of a certain age. If supervisors are all the same relative ages, they probably hire people who are most like them in terms of their age. Although there is nothing illegal about that, it can cause problems.

Eliminating Biases

Eliminating unconscious biases is the first step to avoiding age discrimination. Rather than formal seminars or mentioning age in your diversity and inclusion initiative, encourage your staff to widen its perspective by socializing with people of different ages. Consider giving benefits for volunteer work or having a company volunteer day at a local agency. Offer benefits or raises for people who attend community college classes with a wide range of enrollees.

Create a culture that gets workers out into the world of older and younger people. Try having an office book club where the main character is someone much older than your staffers to see if they can relate to that person. Volunteering and reading can broaden everyone's horizons and make them more empathetic toward older workers.

Reasons to Hire Diverse Ages

Providing multiple perspectives in age means your company speaks to a wider range of customers and gains insights from those customers. A 60-year-old with grown children and grandchildren likely has different views than someone who is 30 with young children, which leads to better innovation. If everyone on your team is the same age, it could foster intense competition for promotions, and that may lead to a hostile work environment. Diverse ages create a stronger pipeline for promotions and succession.

Avoiding age discrimination starts with good leadership that encourages employees to experience more things in the world from a diverse range of people. How does your office combat biases against people of a certain age?

Image courtesy of iubicentennial at Flickr.com


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Susan N thanks for your comment. But not all companies offer health insurance. Especially now in the post Obamacare world. So why do you think it is that these companies don't want to hire the senior worker?

  • Susan N.
    Susan N.

    To me, it's all about Insurance -- if you are older, you will probably use more insurance. Employers won't tell you this, but it is still true. Used to hear every year about our insurance (at a HOSPITAL) going up and up. Younger employees will generally use a lot less insurance so it saves the company.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. The truth is @Rob R, they can pretty much tell your age just by reviewing your resume. If you have 10 years of work experience and no college, they figure you are about 28. If you got a bachelor's degree right after HS, add 4 years to that. So it's not all that hard to figure out our ages. But I agree that they should never ask your age - point blank as that's not allowed. They use these other ways around - such as what year did you graduate from HS or when did you get your bachelor's degree? They can check out your Facebook page or your other social media accounts and figure out your age that way, too. But I say, if they go to those lengths, they must be interested in you - regardless of your age.

  • Rob R.
    Rob R.

    At a job fair in Silicon Valley I was asked when I graduated college. I declined to answer. I told this to recruiters from other companies at the same job fair and their responses ranged from surprise to shock.

  • William E.
    William E.

    Were you ever asked a simple questions like; "When did you graduate high school?" While the question may be perfectly legal, it gives away age in the first few minutes of a conversation. I believe it is every bit as discriminatory as asking someone to check the male or female box that most applications used to insist on. I do not answer the question and have been disconnected immediately after, as if to bear out my belief that the question is discriminatory. I do respond to the question by telling the agent that I decline to answer. Then, there is the tell-tale click.

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