How to Identify Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Sometimes workplace discrimination is easy to see– but sometimes it’s more subtle. Here’s how to identify age discrimination in the workplace.

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Age discrimination in the workplace is common– particularly in younger startups and tech-heavy environments. While many business owners and HR leaders know this and don’t discriminate intentionally, there are subtle cues that might suggest ageism still exists. In this article, we’ll discuss how to identify age discrimination in the workplace. You’ll learn about The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), it’s protections, benefits, and more.

Ageism in the workplace is illegal. Plain and simple. Lawsuits between employees and employers happen for age discrimination all the time. And contrary to popular belief, ageism doesn’t only affect older employees; young workers (or workers who look young) can also experience discrimination based on their age. While the ADEA wasn’t designed to protect younger workers, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that ageism working in the other direction doesn’t exist.

It’s important for business leaders and HR professionals to understand the laws that protect employees from age discrimination to avoid displays of ageism.

What’s the ADEA?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) came into effect in 1967 to protect “applicants and employees who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age.” In other words, the ADEA is designed to eliminate age discrimination in the workplace.

The ADEA covers “private employers with 20 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations, and the federal government.” The Act states that it’s unlawful to discriminate against age in any employment capacity, including “hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.”

What falls under the ADEA protections?

The ADEA protects employees from age discrimination in the workplace when it comes to:

  • Advertisements and Job Notices
  • Apprenticeship Programs
  • Pre-Employment Inquiries
  • Benefits
  • Waivers of ADEA Claims or Rights

For example, if an employer lists age preferences in a job application or requires candidates who apply to be a certain age, they are being unlawful. It’s illegal for hiring managers to include age preferences or limitations in advertisements or job notices. However, even if a job application doesn’t explicitly state a preference for age, employers should still be wary of using age-specific language that may deter older job applicants.

Employers also can’t deny staff benefits based on age. Older employees must be eligible for the same benefits as everyone else employed by the company. For more details on ADEA protections, check out the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

What are the signs of age discrimination?

Now we’ve covered the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, here’s how you can identify age discrimination in the workplace.

Employers and HR professionals should start by paying attention to the common employment practices, which we listed earlier. These include job notices, apprentice programs, benefits, and so on.

Do any of these documents or material display signs of ageism? If you find a job description that contains language that may sound discriminatory, bring it to the attention of your HR team and address the concern immediately.

Beyond these resources, look for signs of age discrimination in the workplace within the company culture. Does your work culture invite workers of all ages? If your organization commonly uses terms like “recent graduate,” “growth hacker,” or “tech-savvy” you may be unintentionally discriminating against older team members. Review your company communications and pay attention to office lingo that favors these buzzwords. Encourage staff to use non-discriminatory language in the workplace.

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