While other forms of employment discrimination grab headlines, one of the most widespread gets far less media attention – age discrimination.
But employers can’t afford to let their guard down when it comes to adopting policies and practices needed to stem this kind of bias. Age discrimination continues to be a prime target for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2016 alone, 20,857 age complaints were filed.
In marking 50 years of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, EEOC said “persistent age discrimination and stereotypes about older workers continue to channel older workers out of the workforce, limiting further economic growth. With so many more people working and living longer, we can’t afford to allow age discrimination to waste the knowledge, skills and talent of older workers.”
The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against people who are 40 or older in hiring, firing, pay, benefits, job assignments, promotions and training. Also banned is harassment, including offensive or derogatory remarks made by. a supervisor, co- worker and even a client or customer.
Employers should make sure they have updated policies and procedures in place to prevent age discrimination in the workplace and in their hiring practices, stresses Michael Fallings, an attorney with the law firm of Tully Rinckey.
He reminds employers that they cannot discuss age or specify that a particular age is preferred in want ads, set age limits for training programs or force an employee to retire at a certain age.
There appears to be a real need for his warning. Between 2016 and 2026, the number of workers age 65 to 74 is seen growing by 4.2% each year, and the number of workers age 75 and above is projected to grow by 6.7% annually.
“These workforce changes are occurring at the same time as technological advancements transform
the workplace. Unfortunately, age-stereotypes can lead some to see these trends as being in conflict,” say Seyfarth Shaw attorneys Andrew Scroggins, Robert Szyba and Ryan Schneider.
Assumptions are that older workers lack stamina, are not technologically savvy and want to slow down. A survey found 41% of companies see their aging workforces as a competitive obstacle.
Also growing is positive stereotyping of younger employees, with references to those considered “digital natives,” “competitive,” “determined,” “energetic” and “innovative.”
At the same time, calls for experienced employees are waning. The trending vocabulary deployed in some of today’s recruitment efforts can be viewed as code for “young,” notes the Society for Human Resources Management.
Recruitment efforts should be based on objective qualifications, the Seyfarth Shaw attorneys say. “Job openings should focus on the skills that are required for the role – not the person the employer thinks is most likely to have those skills.”
Images also can be powerful in sending messages about employment. Websites and all kinds of recruiting materials should reflect diversity and inclusion efforts, and this includes depicting those in older age groups along with younger people.
Research also suggests that older workers have a positive attitude toward changing technology and failing to take this into account can actually hurt employers, the Seyfarth Shaw lawyers point out.
“Inhibiting this enthusiasm with age-related stereotypes is counterproductive. Employers who have identified skill gaps in their applicant pools or workforces should increase their training efforts, including training for their older employees, communicate the importance of skills the training will provide, and carefully choose customizable programs that avoid assuming employees of a given age possess or lack certain skills.”