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Age Discrimination

Ageism is as odious as racism and sexism. Claude Pepper


Ageism is defined as “the act of discriminating against someone based on their age.”  As life spans increase, so does the age of the workforce.  Many seniors are not retiring when they hit 60s.  People are working well into their 70s and 80s.  Ageism can occur in the form of hiring practices, promotions, education, etc.  Businesses today must ensure that ageism of any sort is not allowed in the work culture. 

Employer Responsibility

Hiring employees of varied ages creates a much more versatile workforce.   Employees of varying ages, are able to relate to a wider variety of tasks, with more than one approach to completing the goals.  For example, a young employee may only think of online answers to a problem, when an older employee may go out into the field and find the answer.

One of an employer’s responsibilities is to uphold the federal and state guidelines surrounding ageism in the workplace.  Adherence to these laws is required and the consequences for noncompliance are severe. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a federal law, passed in 1967.   This legislation ensures the fair employment of anyone, regardless of their age.  Here are some of the areas that the ADEA law covers for aging Americans:

  • An employer cannot reduce the benefits or life insurance coverage.
  • An employer cannot discriminate during a downsizing period.
  • An employer cannot force an employee to retire early.

HR and Best Practices

An excellent way for HR to curb the chances of ageism is to start with the hiring processes of the company. When designing the job descriptions for posting, be mindful of the adjectives that are used in describing the candidates that are needed.  Words/phrases such as “up and coming”, “young”, and “energetic”, should not be used.

Ensure that the hiring policies include focus on hiring applicants that are hired on merit and achievements.  Often times hiring managers hire more for who fits well on a team over skills.  This will usually produce a team that is very similar in traits, with very few unique ideas.  Including a wide variety of ages in the workforce produces teams that are better troubleshooters, better communicators, and more successful in day to day tasks.

The Elephant in the Room

There are many different stereotypes associated with the older employees.  These generalizations are unfair and baseless.  Older workers are often thought to be:
On the way out of the door of the company.

  • Unable to learn new ideas and processes.
  • Overqualified for entry level positions.
  • More apt to take sick leave.

Most of these stereotypes are ideas that we all have grown up with for most of our lives.  Everyone recognizes the pictures of the frail, little old lady, or the stories of the hard of hearing old man.  We have been taught that older citizens are less capable and need assistance.  These ideas are not true of everyone, just like other stereotypes.  One cannot categorize an entire group of people by the characteristics of a few.

Overcoming Stereotypes

Changing stereotypes within a company that is engrained as ageism stereotypes, are difficult.  This work culture of embracing all aged employees must begin from the top of the organization, down.  HR can assist with changing these ideas, with education of the employees to the real facts about older workers.  Some examples would be:

  • Older workers actually take fewer sick days than the younger counterparts.
  • Older workers have been proven to be more eager to use new technology and equipment.
  • Older workers have shown to be more likely to come up with new innovations than younger employees.




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