Understanding age discrimination in the workplace
Age discrimination can take many forms in the workplace. It is important to understand and recognize the various forms of discrimination because it is against the law. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission’s Age Discrimination in Employment Act [ADEA] prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from treating people who are age 40 or older unfairly. However, in a study done by the AARP, approximately 64 percent of workers ages 45-74 say they have seen or experienced age bias in the workplace. This is particularly relevant since nearly 55 percent of today’s employed labor force is 40 or older. In other words, a majority of the workforce feels they have received unlawful treatment…so why does it persist?
One of the reasons this discrimination continues to occur may be because employers fail to recognize the signs of ageism in their office. Here a few examples:
- One employee frequently makes remarks about another employee’s age. Although they may appear to be joking around or in good humor, the employee on the receiving end could still feel harassed.
- An employer or manager decides to only hire employees with less than 15 years of experience within the industry. This type of policy favors younger workers and excludes someone with more years of experience even though they may be equally qualified and skilled and fit the job description.
- A company reduces an employee’s benefits as they age despite the fact the expense of that benefit does not increase with age. This type of reduction targets a specific group of people. In this example, if the company needs to cut down on the cost of benefits, they should adjust their entire employee benefits program, not the benefit of a certain group.
- A business lays off a group of workers based on age or seniority without providing compensation or performance based evidence for dismissal. This type of move has an adverse effect on older workers especially when they are let go, while younger workers are not.
Keep in mind that the main goal of the ADEA is to stop employers from having policies that have a disproportionate impact on older workers versus younger workers. Recognizing unfair treatment in the office is only the first step to solving the problem. Check Part 2 to learn our suggestions for preventing age discrimination and addressing it when it does occur in the workplace.