The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 protects individuals who are 40 or older from less favorable treatment in the workplace based on their age. The protections of the ADEA apply to job applicants as well as employees, and the law applies to all private employers with 20 or more employees, employment agencies, labor organizations, and federal, state and local governments. States also have their own laws against age discrimination.
Recently, it has become a more frequent issue. Due to the economic recession and other factors, more seniors are working into “traditional” retirement years. In 2013 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 21,396 complaints of discrimination under the ADEA.
Employers must prevent age discrimination in their job postings and descriptions, interviews and pre-employment screening, employment offers, salaries and benefits, performance reviews and merit increases, disciplinary actions and promotions, demotions and terminations, and mass layoffs. Examples of potential age discrimination include laying off older workers in favor of younger staff during a company “restructuring,” rejecting job candidates because they “look too old,” and hiring from outside the company—rather than promoting from within—because you need “new blood” in the boardroom.
Age discrimination can also take the form of harassment. Such harassment may include making offensive remarks about an employee’s age on a continual basis, creating a hostile or offensive work environment in the process. The harasser may be the employee’s supervisor, another manager, a co-worker or even a client or customer.
A 2013 AARP study found 64 percent of workers between the ages of 45 and 74 had seen or experienced discrimination based on age. Ninety-two percent believe age discrimination in the workplace is “very” or “somewhat” common. Twelve percent reported being passed over for a promotion because of their age, while 9 percent said employers denied them access to training or development opportunities. Eight percent believe they had been fired in the past because of their age.
As these older Americans continue to put off retirement, employers will need to be ever more vigilant in their guard against age discrimination. Every company should have a written anti-age discrimination policy. They should communicate the policy to their managers, supervisors, human resource professionals and anyone else directly involved in the hiring, firing, review and supervision of staff. It may also be beneficial for employer to review all of their company policies and practices regularly to ensure none contain inadvertent age bias or have an unfair adverse impact on older workers.