Age discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under federal law and often prohibited by state and local law. With several generations of employees in the workforce there may be an increase in generational stereotyping, but each employee, regardless of their age, should be evaluated based on their skills and work performance. Employers are encouraged to be sure they are familiar with the applicable anti-discrimination laws in their jurisdiction. In addition, here are steps that company leaders and HR specialists can take to help avoid age discrimination in the workplace.
Be Aware of Potential Risk Areas
There is a possible risk for discrimination whenever employees are treated differently in any term or condition of employment based on age.
When evaluating your policies and looking for gaps and vulnerabilities, ensure you look at all terms and conditions of employment. Evaluating policies, training, and completing an internal analysis to eradicate differential treatment based on age, or any other protected class, can help minimize risk.
Understand the law
It's important that employers understand the law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. In addition, harassment due to age-related issues is also prohibited under the law. It applies to employers with 20 or more employees who worked for the company for at least twenty calendar weeks (in this year or last). State and local jurisdictions may also protect workers from age discrimination and many protect workers under the age of 40 as well.
Have Clear Policies and Documentation
Employers should have clear policies and documentation. For example, a non-discrimination policy may be part of your employee handbook including procedures to guide the employee in reporting to management if they feel they have been discriminated against. Additional discussion of this important issue is often part of the onboarding process. Companies should evaluate whether their policies are clear and ensure that all documentation is complete and available to employees.
Conduct Diversity Training for Managers and Employees
All managers and employees should be trained to help prevent discrimination, including age discrimination, in the workplace. It's important that training focuses more broadly on diversity and inclusion. Workplace training shouldn't just focus on a static list of dos and don'ts; instead, highlight case studies, interactive examples, and the gray areas that reflect the reality managers and workers encounter. These types of exercises help better prepare them for the realities of the business world.
Set the Tone From the Top Down
Often, age discrimination comes from a set of assumptions about what workers can and can't do based on age. Company leadership needs to take an active role in setting the right tone. It's important to make it clear that discrimination of all types won't be tolerated. When company leaders respect all workers, give them access to the same opportunities, promote the most qualified candidates, and quickly address issues of stereotypes or unfortunate language, for example, it's easier to create a healthy corporate culture.
Age discrimination in the workforce can happen. But companies can help reduce their risk by being aware of the law, having clear policies, evaluating their performance, and training staff at all levels of the organization.