Recent studies show that age discrimination in the workplace persists more than 50 years after a law designed to protect older workers was enacted.

AARP recently conducted a survey highlighting age discrimination experiences and attitudes by older workers. AARP surveyed 3,900 people age 45 and older who were working full-time or part-time or looking for work. A few of the key findings:

  • 91% view age discrimination as somewhat common; 38% view it as very common
  • 61% report having personally seen or experienced it, but only 3% made an official complaint about any age discrimination that they have seen or experienced
  • 44% were asked for age-related information such as birth dates and graduation years
  • 58% think that on retirement, they expect to work part or full time
  • More than half of older workers who believe age discrimination exists in the workplace indicate that it starts in the worker’s 50s. 18% believe it starts in the worker’s 60s.

In Human Resources Executive, Mark McGraw talks about age discrimination, citing a new report issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): The State of Age Discrimination and Older Workers in the U.S. – 50 Years After the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The report describes the persistent drivers of age discrimination as:

“Unfounded assumptions about age and ability continue to drive age discrimination in the workplace. Research on ageist stereotypes demonstrates that most people have specific negative beliefs about aging and that most of those beliefs are inaccurate. These stereotypes often may be applied to older workers, leading to negative evaluations and/or firing, rather than coaching or retraining.”

AARP spokesperson Susan Weinstock encourages employers to view age as an element in diversity and inclusion strategies. She dispels some of the unfounded assumptions about aging workers:

“Baby boomers are the generation that invented the Internet, the personal computer and the Intel processor. And there’s no reason to assume that technical skills decline with age,” she says, adding that AARP research shows employees in the 55-and-up age cohort are both the most engaged and motivated age group in the labor force.

“Another great asset that older workers bring to the table is applied skills, often called soft or baseline skills, such as professionalism, calm under pressure, relationship building and emotional intelligence.”

EEOC enforcement can be an expensive lesson

The EEOC has been aggressive about pursuing age discrimination. Last year, EEOC settled a case with Texas Roadhouse for $12 million. The restaurant chain agreed to make changes in hiring and recruitment practices. This year, Darden Restaurants (parent of Olive Garden) settled a federal lawsuit for $2.8 million. Part of the settlement included a provision to have the chain’s hiring practices overseen by an independent monitor for three years. An article in Forbes citing these suits notes that, “Age discrimination prosecutions often come with a string of insults trailing behind them.” In the Darden case, applicants were described as “old white guys” and insufficiently “young and fresh.” In the Texas Roadhouse case, managers were alleged to have posted “yellow stickers on applications of those over 40 with comments such as “Old ‘N Chubby,” “little old lady” and “middle age…Doesn’t really fit out image.”

Training your managers in anti-discrimination is vital. This is also true for anyone involved in the hiring and interviewing process. Recruitment practices also often work against older job applicants. In a pair of article, Susanne Lukas asks Does Facebook Facilitate Age Discrimination in Job Ads? and notes that If You Think There Are Not a Lot of Jobs Out There, It May Be that You Are Too Old to See the Ads. Facebook and other online media allowing targeting ads to applicants by age. She offers the following advice to employers on targeting ads by age:

“If it makes sense, yes, but check with your lawyers to make sure it makes sense. You’re on far better legal grounds excluding younger people for lack of experience than older people. Make sure you don’t post just in areas where you target by age. Every job posted on Facebook should also appear on your company webpage. And, because you really, really should, I’ll say it again: check with your labor and employment lawyer. Do not ask the lawyer who helped with your incorporation or handled your divorce. It is far better to waste a few dollars on an ad that hits people who are unlikely to apply for a job than it is to inadvertently break the law and end up in court. “

ESI EAP offers robust compliance training as part of our services,, including our ESI Management Academy and Peak Performance Benefits, which include professional coaching, training and resources on hiring, recruitment and onboarding.

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