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EEO Laws

How to Avoid Age Discrimination in the Workplace 


Dec 17, 2015

age discriminationA study came out in October that solidified what many people have known for years: The older you are, the more likely you’ll face discrimination in the workplace.

For the study, researchers crafted fictional, yet realistic resumes for applicants in three age groups—29-31, 49-51 and 64-66—and applied to over 40,000 jobs. They discovered that the 64-66 age group received the least amount of call backs—35 percent fewer than the 29-31 age group.

Age discrimination doesn’t just negatively affect workers. It also affects your company.

How Ageism Can Affect Your Company

Over the past 15 years, age discrimination cases have accounted for 20-25 percent of all Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases—and age discrimination cases typically receive the highest payouts ($93.9 million in 2013 alone).

Ageism is bad for business because not only do you risk a large settlement, you miss out on a large talent pool of older workers in your hiring practices. You also miss out on the major contributions that older workers can make to your organization.

However—change is on the horizon. Companies just like yours are searching for ways to avoid discriminating against employees in their workplaces because of age.

That’s why we put together this list of five things you can start doing now to keep ageism out of your workplace.

Steps to Avoid Age Discrimination in Your Workplace

1. Discrimination and Diversity Training

If you want to protect your company from age discrimination claims, your supervisors and employees need training—specifically on discrimination and diversity. The training will help them understand the benefits of age diversity and the repercussions of discrimination in the workplace.

In an interview with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Terri Imbarlina Patak, an attorney with Dickie McCamey in Pittsburgh, advises that training needs to cover unconscious biases and stereotypes. Also, training should do more than lecture on what not to do; it should provide real-world examples and interactivity to keep learners engaged.

Additionally, because the workforce is now mostly comprised of three different generations—baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials—employees need to know how to work together. Diversity training that covers topics such as respect, implicit bias, and team building will go a long way toward creating a strong and inclusive workplace.

2. Put Policies in Place and Enforce Them

It’s not enough to assume that your employees will understand not to discriminate based on age. You need clearly defined policies in place. Verity, a human resources consulting firm, emphasizes that you must inform everyone in your organization about the policy—especially new employees. And that the policy should stress that your company will not tolerate unfair treatment based on age.

Although it’s a great start, simply creating a policy isn’t enough. Senior leaders, managers and human resource departments must enforce the policy, whether that includes formal discipline or something more severe.

3. Reward Based on Performance, Not Tenure

Instead of basing rewards, promotions or preferential treatment on tenure, base it on performance. The Houston Chronicle recommends employees receive benefits based on their value to the company, not their age. Also, your company should offer the same training or continuing education opportunities to all employees, regardless of their age or experience level.

4. Start in the Hiring/Interview Process

Another way to avoid age discrimination is to make sure you aren’t accidentally discriminating in the hiring process:

  • Place advertisements where everyone might look, such as online job boards or community newspapers.
  • Remove discriminatory language from your job descriptions like “new grads” or “young.”
  • Don’t require applicants to list their birthdate on forms.
  • Stay away from age-related interview questions.
  • Avoid stereotyping older workers (ex. someone 60 years old will retire soon and isn’t worth hiring).

5. Don’t Approach Layoffs Based on Age or Pay

When it’s time for layoffs or a reduction in force, be careful not to base your decisions on age. For example, just because you think an older employee might be retiring soon, it’s a bad idea to let them go for that reason.

Also, in many cases, your highest paid employees are going to have more seniority—partly because they are older. So it’s bad policy to target salary as the reason for an employee’s dismissal—a point that’s illustrated in a 2012 age discrimination case.

The EEOC filed a lawsuit against a billing services firm for firing a 60-year-old employee because of her age while keeping a younger, less qualified employee. The company ended up paying out $32,000 to the former employee.

Embracing A Multigenerational Workplace

The best way to avoid age discrimination is to embrace a multigenerational workforce. That means recognizing that all your employees, no matter their age, can contribute to your organization’s success. In addition, it means creating a culture that welcomes employees and recognizes the unique strengths they bring to the table—and that includes their age.

Request a demo, to find out how our diversity and EEO training will help you lead a multigenerational workforce.

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