Fighting Ageism in the Workplace

Is “Ageism” a thing? You bet it is, despite the fact that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. 

According to Fairygodboss.com, the number of aging workers in today’s workforce is on the rise. They say data from AARP indicates that in 2018, workers over the age of 55 filled nearly half of new jobs. Yet, workers as young as 45—and even younger—are experiencing ageism. 

Fairygodboss surveyed 1,000 people over the age of 40, and found that just over 1 in 3 respondents (37%) who reported experiencing workplace ageism, say they were younger than 45 the first time it happened. Most respondents (62%) say this first brush occured when they were at a mid-level position in their career.

Why is this important? First, age discrimination is immoral. Not to mention, mature employees have valuable work and life experience to offer and could possibly mentor younger employees. Their work ethics are often stronger and in today’s shortage of good, solid workers, mature workers can help fill some of those open positions.

Second, as we stated above, it is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her age. And according to the EEOC, harassment can include offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's age. Simple teasing or offhand comments, or isolated incidents are not illegal. However if the comments and teasing become so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted), legal action can be taken by the victim. 

One aspect of the ADEA employers should recognise is that a harasser can be any employee, such as a supervisor or a co-worker. It can also be someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

What Should Be Done About Age Discrimination?

Lead by example. Don’t discriminate against a person because of their age. Consider instead what they have to bring to the table.

To mitigate the risk of lawsuits, education and training are critical when it comes to any form of discrimination. 

  1. If you are an Otis Woods client, log into your free ThinkHR account and familiarize yourself with federal and state laws regarding discrimination.

  2. Also in ThinkHR, make sure your employee handbook includes written policies that 1) clearly define discrimination, 2) states a zero tolerance policy, and 3) explains the consequences employees will face if they violate those policies.  Also include instructions for reporting discrimination and/or harassment.

  3. Have all employees sign a statement saying they clearly understand your policies. 

  4. Once those policies are in place, make sure you handle all situations according to policy, treating all employees equally. 

  5. If you do not have an employee handbook, it’s time to build one. The tools in ThinkHR make building a handbook fairly simple, and if you need help, we can connect you with an expert.

  6. Review our catalog of online training courses. If you would like your employees to participate in these valuable courses, contact our office and we’ll get you started.