According to a recent article in Fair360, “Of all the differences between people that can strengthen a workforce, one that’s often added last to the list is age.”
Both older and younger workers face age-related discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines age discrimination – otherwise known as ageism – as “treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age.” The ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) forbids age discrimination against those 40 or older.
The Federal Law’s Position on Workplace Discrimination
Federal law specifically prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment. That includes hiring, firing, job assignments, promotions, pay, layoffs, training, and reducing benefits. While the ADEA applies to companies with 20 or more employers, many states now have laws protecting older workers at small businesses.
ADEA also protects older workers from harassment, sometimes employed to get people to quit rather than firing them. Harassment does not include simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t serious, according to the EEOC. But it does include frequent, offensive, or derogatory remarks about a worker’s age that create a hostile work environment.
Notably, ADEA does not protect younger workers. The EEOC states that “it is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older.”
Ageism is Something All Businesses Should Take Seriously
However, some states have passed laws that essentially extend the protections of ADEA to younger workers in an effort to combat “reverse” age-related discrimination that targets younger workers. Those states include Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.
Such laws can help younger workers who often must manage a host of issues that previous generations did not face. These challenges include inflation, skyrocketing housing costs, and the rising cost of education in some countries (including the U.S.). Many also have experienced the negative impact of the 24/7 nature of social networking, as well as body image and low self-esteem issues.
Ageism is something every organization should make a priority, especially in light of the current makeup of the workforce. Many Baby Boomers now work into their 70s and even 80s. At the same time, Millennials have entered their prime earning years and the first wave of Gen Z is entering the workforce. Today’s managers oversee a multigenerational workforce that includes five distinct generations:
Traditionalists (76 to 99 years old)
Baby Boomers (57 to 75)
Generation X (41 to 56)
Millennials (26 to 40)
Generation Z (25 and younger)
Employers can benefit from this generational mix working together. But they must first understand and combat ageism. The Fair360 article offers these tips on how employers can combat ageism:
Hiring: In some cases, even the language and placement of job openings can accidentally discriminate on the basis of age. Companies should avoid language that makes any reference to age, such as “recent grads.” Job listings need to be advertised where people of all ages will see them. Job applications should avoid seeking age-related information such as date of birth or year of graduation. Companies also should create a diverse panel of people to interview job candidates, including a mix of different ages.
Avoid Stereotyping: Both older and younger workers are subject to stereotyping – young workers as lazy, not wanting to work, entitled, etc. and older workers as retiring soon, tired, set in their ways, etc.
Include Ageism as a Legitimate DEI topic: Organizations should include ageism when creating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training programs and company policies. Citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, the Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM) reported that while 64% of more than 1,300 CEOs across 77 countries had DEI strategies in place, only 8% included ageism as part of those strategies. All employees can benefit from learning and development programs, career counseling and reverse-age mentoring.
Build a Strong Culture of Equitable Treatment: The idea of equity is to create fair outcomes for all employees, which sometimes requires giving workers from some backgrounds extra training or different accommodations. Companies should focus on fostering a multigenerational culture that emphasizes ability rather than a person’s age.
What an effective DEI culture requires is a transformation in recruiting, hiring, and retention across the entire organization. Given the complexity of the change, companies will need to recruit in a whole new way. A relationship with a recruiting firm that understands and stands for the demands of this new world is likely to produce the best results. An effective recruiting partner will partner with the company to identify the right combination of skill and experience to find the top candidates and to convey to them what it is the hiring company stands for.