In today’s workplace, there’s a trend where older individuals are comprising a significant percentage of the workforce — and this is only expected to continue. In fact, it’s predicted that “By 2018, the number of employees over 55 will reach 39 million, compared to 27 million in 2008.” Part of the reason for this trend is due to the lingering effects of the recession and because retirement benefits aren’t being offered as much as they were in the past.
As a result, age discrimination has become somewhat of a problem in certain industries. Here’s what you need to know about this topic and how you can prevent any backlash or complications from it.
What is Age Discrimination?
According to the EEOC, “Age discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employees) less favorably because of his or her age.” Some examples include not hiring a qualified applicant, firing someone because they are deemed to be “too old,” denying someone benefits or failing to offer them a promotion just because of their age. Age discrimination can also involve harassment where offensive comments are made regarding a person’s age.
There are two main laws that were passed that deal with age discrimination. One is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which prohibits workers who are 40 years or older from being discriminated against because of their age. The second is the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1990, which was an amendment to the ADEA. This was put in place to make it illegal for employers to use age discrimination as a means of denying benefits.
Consider employers who must comply with the ADEA:
- Employers with at least 20 employees
- Employment agencies
- The federal government
- State and local government (though remedies are often limited)
- Labor organizations with at least 25 members
Besides this, many states have additional laws that are designed to prevent age discrimination. In most cases, state laws are also geared toward protecting individuals who are 40 years or older. However, some states protect workers of all ages.
How to Protect Yourself and Employees
If your company is ever accused of age discrimination and hit with a claim, things can get ugly in a hurry. Fortunately, there are several precautions you can take to greatly minimize the chances of this happening.
- Never use age as a factor when making hiring or firing decisions
- Never assume that a person isn’t capable of completing tasks because of his age
- Never ask about a person’s age during an interview
- Create an anti-age discrimination policy and educate employees on what constitutes unacceptable behavior
- Post this policy in a location where it can be seen by all, and provide new hires with this information
- Thoroughly document things like performance problems, interviewing, tardiness, etc. so you can prove fair treatment if there’s ever a claim against you
By understanding the various aspects of age discrimination and your responsibilities as an employer, you should be able to ensure compliance with relevant laws and prevent a lot of headaches. It should also create a more positive working environment that’s void of tension.