50 Years Protecting Age in the Workplace

July 11, 2018
Inside HR
Affirmative Action
HR Compliance
Diversity and Inclusion
Read time: 4 mins

Once you reach age 50, you’re likely to start hearing jokes about getting a senior discount at Denny’s. Well, now after fifty years, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) can get its Grand Slam a bit cheaper. Even though the ADEA was signed into law in December 1967 and took effect in June 1968, age discrimination remains a common practice as outdated assumptions about older workers and ability persist, according to the EEOC’s State of Older Workers and Age Discrimination 50 Years After the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Below are its significant findings:

Open secret. The ADEA was an important part of 1960s civil rights legislation that was intended to ensure equal opportunity for older workers. Today’s experienced workers are more diverse, better educated, and working longer than previous generations, yet the report finds "many similarities between age discrimination and harassment. Like harassment, everyone knows it happens every day to workers in all kinds of jobs, but few speak up. It’s an open secret."

Worse for women, minorities. The report points out the prevalent perception that age discrimination exists in our workplaces. More than 6 in 10 workers age 45 and older say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace; of those, 90 percent say it is somewhat or very common, according to a 2017 survey. African Americans/Blacks report much higher rates of having experienced age discrimination or knowing someone who had, at 77 percent, compared to 61 percent for Hispanics/Latinos and 59 percent for Whites. More women than men also say older workers face age discrimination.

The Tech Industry. Older workers in the technology industry report significantly high rates of age discrimination, with 70 percent of those on IT staffs reporting they had witnessed or experienced age discrimination. In fact, the report states that more than 40 percent of older tech workers are worried about losing their jobs because of age or consider their age to be a liability to their career.

Impact. According to the EEOC report, the financial and emotional harm of age discrimination on older workers and their families is significant. Once an older worker loses a job, he or she will likely endure the longest period of unemployment compared to other age groups and will likely take a significant pay cut if he or she becomes re-employed. Plus, job loss has serious long-term financial consequences. Older workers often must draw down their retirement savings while unemployed and are likely to suffer substantial losses in income if they become re-employed.

Recommendations. The report contained these recommendations:

  • Include age in diversity and inclusion programs and efforts. Research demonstrates that age diversity can improve organizational performance and lower employee turnover. Studies also find that mixed-age work teams result in higher productivity for both older and younger workers.
  • Avoid age bias by recruiting workers of all ages and not limiting qualifications based on age or years of experience. Contrary to common perception, older workers do not cost significantly more than younger workers. Millennials are leaving their employers, on average, after three years, whereas older workers, on average, provide employers with more stability, longer tenures, and ultimately a greater return on investment.
  • Assess interviewing strategies to avoid age bias, as studies and experience show that interviewers tend to favor job candidates who remind them of themselves. An age-diverse interview panel for prospective employees may be viewed more positively by candidates and may be less vulnerable to implicit bias.
  • Provide career counseling, training, and development opportunities to workers at all ages and at all stages of their careers. Mixed-age and reverse-age mentoring can increase worker productivity and satisfaction. Workers of all ages value flexible work options that can provide work/life balance at various times in their careers.

The report recognizes the similarities between age discrimination and other discrimination. Only about three percent of those who have experienced age discrimination complained to their employer or a government agency, according to recent research. Even with a booming economy and low unemployment, older workers still report they have difficulties getting hired.

Source: EEOC.gov; CCH/Wolters Kluwer; Michael Hyatt, Director, HR Government Affairs, MRA – The Management Association