Age Discrimination: What You Need to Know

Dr. Ryan Giffen

There are several factors to consider when deciding an individual for employment. But certain characteristics of an individual should have no bearing on their employability.  However, employers often make hiring and firing decisions based on such characteristics. Sometimes this occurs consciously. On the other hand, it most commonly occurs with no knowledge of state and federal employment laws.

One such factor is age. Age is something that should never play a role in an individual’s job qualifications. Age discrimination in the workplace happens more than most people realize. Here are some facts about it.

Protection from Age Discrimination

Age discrimination still occurs. But, there's protection under the federal law known as the Age Discrimination Act. Enacted in 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) offers protection for those applying for a job. Additionally, it protects current employees. Age discrimination can come in a wide array of forms. It occurs within interviews, hiring, salaries, training, job postings, and more. Anything that provides a disadvantage or advantage merely due to age is discrimination.

The Prevalence of Age Discrimination in the Workforce

There are certain metrics that can show the level of age discrimination in the workplace. However, the numbers are far from accurate. Surveys and claims account for a substantial amount of incidents. However, there are innumerable cases that are not reported. Oftentimes it is also concealed once found out. These occurrences make the counted results inaccurate.

Older workers are the most common recipient of age discrimination. This is especially true in modern-day. According to a report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “The most dramatic changes in the age of the labor force occurred in the last 25 years, as the share of workers age 55 and older in the workforce doubled. Workers age 65 and older are staying in or re-entering the workforce in greater numbers.”

Some employers believe age makes employees less capable of performing certain tasks. Often, employers believe that older staff raise insurance premiums or work-related injuries costs. The age discrimination act has lowered the occurrence of discrimination toward older workers. Despite this, it still occurs far too often.

Young Or Old - Age Discrimination is Everywhere

Age discrimination does not only affect older employees. In some cases, younger workers also experience age discrimination. Employers discriminate against younger workers for a multitude of “justified” reasons. In some cases, employers view younger workers as lazy and deny them a job. They are often not hired because they lack work experience. Additionally, in certain layoff situations, some companies layoff only younger workers. In these cases, it turns out they viewed their tenured employees as most valuable.

Age discrimination is typically not overtly performed. Additionally, some employers have surreptitious ways to get the information they want. Some employers may use the year that an applicant graduated from high school or college to estimate their age. This gets them around laws keeping them from outright asking an applicant's age. It's discrimination if this information plays a role in the hiring decision.

The Potential Exceptions

True age discrimination is never a reasonable act. However, there are some circumstances where age does, in fact, play a role in job qualification. In cases where a job must consider age, employers must consider all the facts. An older worker with health issues may not fit a physical job which requires strength. A more obvious example would be a bartender, where the employee has to be old enough by law to serve alcohol.

In circumstances like these, an employer must prove that age is a vital factor in the performance of the job. This is legally referred to as a bona fide occupational qualification. You must thoroughly review an applicant’s ability before making hiring decisions. Don't make judgments based solely on age.

About Dr. Ryan Giffen

With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Ryan Giffen is an expert in human relations and business culture. His career began in hospitality, leading operations and human resource departments for Fortune 500 companies and the like. Not long after, Ryan found his passion for teaching and consulting. He earned a Ph.D. in Hospitality Management with a Human Resources focus from Iowa State University and now works as an assistant professor at California State University, Long Beach. For over a decade, he continues to research and speak on organizational culture, relationship intelligence, and leadership effectiveness. Ryan is also the founder of Inospire, a company helping bosses and employees build stronger relationships with one another.  Lastly, Dr. Giffen is producer and host of the Corporate Shadow Podcast. a show helping everyday employees overcome workplace nonsense.