Age discrimination in the workplace not only exposes a business to costly legal threats, it can also hurt employees' productivity and performance. Learn what ageism is legally and how your organization can best prevent it.
Age discrimination against older employees is illegal in the U.S. – and legislation is in place to protect employees (and prospective employees) over the age of 40 who might otherwise be disadvantaged simply because of their age.
However, despite the clear and unambiguous legal safeguards in place to protect employees from age discrimination in the workplace, many workers over the age of 40 still face ageism at work, which can potentially cost your business money in lost productivity and performance, as well as exposing you to the very real risk of a legal challenge.
In this article, we'll review age discrimination in the workplace, share some facts and figures on the scope of the problem, and highlight five things that every business needs to know about age discrimination – and how to prevent it.
What is age discrimination in the workplace?
Age discrimination in the workplace is the negative or disadvantageous treatment of employees based on their age rather than performance or merit. While any employee can be targeted by age discrimination – including younger employees – protection from age discrimination is mandated in law only for employees over the age of 40, which is the main target group for age-based discrimination in the workplace.
The law pertaining to the prevention of age discrimination applies to every stage of the employment process, including recruitment and job advertising, hiring and interviewing practices, job assignments, performance reviews, benefits, career advancement, and termination.
Legal protection against age discrimination in the workplace is provided under the remit of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967), or ADEA, and failure to protect and preserve the rights of older workers is a type of employment discrimination.
Age discrimination facts and figures in the workplace
To give you a feel for the scope of age discrimination in the U.S., here are some facts and figures that outline how widespread the problem really is:
- 1 in 5 workers across the U.S. as a whole are 55 years old or over.
- 64 percent of workers aged 45 or older have experienced or witnessed workplace discrimination, according to research by AARP.
- 59 percent of the sample group indicated that, in their experience, age discrimination is "very common."
- Age discrimination in the U.S. is becoming even more common – the EEOC saw nearly 21,000 age discrimination complaints filed in 2016, compared to 15,000 in 1997.
- Age discrimination complaints or complaints that contain an element of age discrimination make up 23 percent, or almost a quarter, of all EEOC complaints received across the board.
5 things your business needs to know about age discrimination
All businesses are keen to avoid potentially costly litigation on the basis of age discrimination in the workplace, but the threat of litigation isn't the only reason why companies and organizations should take a proactive approach to preventing age discrimination at work.
Here are five important pieces of information about age discrimination in the workplace.
1. ADEA legislation to protect workers against age discrimination applies to all local governmental, state and federal employers regardless of their number of employees, as well as to private employers with 20 or more employees. The regulations also apply to labor cooperatives and organizations, including employment agencies.
2. Failing to recognize the value of your older employees and invest in their training, professional development and advancement in favor of younger workers not only has an impact on your older workers themselves, but also has implications for your business's productivity, performance and future success.
3. According to an AARP study, workers 50 and older have lower rates of employment turnover, and are also among the most committed and engaged workers.
4. There is a correlation between ageism and other types of employee discrimination, particularly gender-based discrimination – 72 percent of female study participants ages 45-74 cite experience of or familiarity with age discrimination, compared to just 57 percent of men within the same age category.
5. Age discrimination in the workplace can be subtle as well as overt. Even within forward-looking companies that set and maintain policies to actively prevent age discrimination, not all managers and team leaders are fully conversant with the scope and remit of age discrimination and how to prevent it, which can leave your company open to litigation.
3 quick tips to prevent an age discrimination case
Defending your business against an age discrimination case can be both expensive and time-consuming. The time and financial impact that such complaints can have on your company, not to mention the lost productivity and wasted employer resources, is a huge burden.
These three simple tips will help your business mitigate the risk of an age discrimination lawsuit.
1. Provide discrimination and diversity training.
If you want to protect your business against age discrimination claims, it's important to provide proper training to all employees. Training will help everyone understand what's illegal under ADEA and provide a strong foundation for proper policy.
2. Put age-related policies in place and enforce them.
While most people would agree that discrimination of any kind is wrong, that doesn't mean it won't happen. Aside from training, it's important to clearly define policies and set expectations for what will occur if a violation happens.
3. Implement best practices during the interview and hiring process.
When your business is ready to hire for a new position, it's important to implement best practices from the very beginning of this process. When creating your job posting, be sure to avoid phrases that discriminate based on age such as "new grads" or "young." Also, always avoid age-related interview questions.
If you need help with age discrimination workplace policies and procedures, or if you have questions about age discrimination that you'd like to discuss, contact an employment law attorney for support and guidance.