While a new wave of HR managers and employees have been educated and are sensitive to an inclusive and diverse work environment, age discrimination in the workplace is still alive and well. With the number of older workers on the rise and more professionals opting to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 62-65, EEOC administrative charges and age-related lawsuits are increasing.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted in 1967, and made age a “protected characteristic” in workplaces of 20 or more employees in hiring, firing, work assignments and promotions for employees age 40 or older. While plain on its face, in real life it is not this straightforward.
The most common occurrences are not the black and white issues of a failure to hire or being fired for being “too old”. Rather, most instances of age discrimination are age-based remarks from a manager or co-worker, the perception of being passed over for a promotion and being asked their age by supervisors (which is prohibited conduct) and then suffering adverse employment action.
What should a prudent employer do? Undertake education and effort. Supervisory training on the pitfalls of stereotypical thinking and actions regarding “older” workers can go a long way to prevent charges against your company, and demonstrate to your workforce you are serious about maintaining a talented pool of individuals. In the instance you do have an age claim thereafter, the documentation of your training creates a defense to any challenges/concerns your workforce may have to your commitment of a discrimination-fee workplace, as well as to potentially deter a lawsuit against your company.