Elizabeth Bille

According to a recent AARP survey, 78% of older workers report that they have seen or experienced age discrimination at work, the highest level reported since the survey began in 2003. In 2018, this number was just 61%.

This uptick in age discrimination at work may be the result of a “perfect storm” of conditions:

  • In times of economic uncertainty, such as during COVID-19 and now with the potential for a recession, RIFs and pay cuts have become more commonplace. These reductions tend to disproportionately impact more tenured workers who earn higher wages and are also older.
  • As the Great Reshuffle continues, older applicants are facing hiring bias: 27% of HR professionals recently reported that they’ve seen age bias impacting hiring decisions.
  • Ageism continues to be one of the only biases that is “socially condoned,” so many employers overlook it as a form of harmful prejudice.
  • Finally, with five generations now working side-by-side in today’s workforce, the potential for intergenerational conflict and misunderstandings has increased.

How Ageism Can Affect Your Company

Age discrimination in the workplace doesn’t just negatively affect employees. It also affects your company. Over the past 15 years, age discrimination charges have accounted for 20-25 percent of all Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases. Payouts for EEOC age discrimination cases topped $83 million in 2021.

Ageism in the workplace is bad for business. Not only can it cause legal risk, but you also can miss out on a large talent pool of highly-qualified, experienced, and engaged workers. You can also miss out on the major contributions that older employees can make to your organization.

Steps on How to Prevent Age Discrimination in Your Workplace

Age discrimination at work can be prevented. Here are five things you can start doing now to keep ageism out of your workplace.

1. Discrimination and Diversity Training

If you want to prevent age discrimination claims at your company, your supervisors and employees need training – specifically on discrimination, harassment, and diversity. The training will help them understand the benefits of age diversity and the repercussions of age bias and discrimination in the workplace.

Online HR Training

EVERFI designs global ethics and compliance courses that educate employees on important skills relating to harassment, diversity, security and culture—protecting your people and your bottom line.

Age discrimination in the workplace is often rooted in myths and stereotypes that many may think are legitimate business concerns, such as doubts about productivity or the ability to learn new skills. These stereotypes have been debunked: research shows that older workers are more productive, and perform more consistently, than their younger counterparts at a multigenerational workplace. A key part of training, then, is to build awareness about these stereotypes that can lead to age discrimination and harassment, and how managers and employees can take steps to prevent both.

Additionally, because the workforce consists  of five different generations, employees need to know how to work together. Diversity and inclusion training that covers topics such as respect, implicit bias, and team building will go a long way toward creating a strong and inclusive multigenerational workplace.

2. Put Policies in Place and Enforce Them

It’s not enough to assume that your employees will understand not to discriminate based on age. You need clearly defined policies in place that your company will not tolerate unfair treatment based on age.

Although it’s a great start, simply creating a policy isn’t enough. Senior leaders, managers, and human resource departments must consistently enforce it. Through policy and leader actions, all employees must understand that age harassment and discrimination-age-related teasing, jokes, exclusion from projects and jobs, and more-are just as serious as other types of harassment and discrimination.

3. Include Age in Your DEI Strategy

Another way to prevent age discrimination in the workplace is to make age a critical component of your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. While many organizations focus on characteristics such as race and gender, only 8% of companies include age in their DEI initiatives. By intentionally including age in your DEI policies and company statements, spotlighting employees of all ages in internal newsletters and communications, ensuring older workers’ voices and perspectives are heard and valued in both group and one-on-one settings, and more, organizations can promote an environment of respect and understanding that prevents harassment and age discrimination claims from occurring.

4. Review Your Hiring/Interview Process

Another way to avoid age discrimination in the workplace is to make sure you aren’t accidentally discriminating against older workers in your hiring process, or discouraging them from applying in the first place. To prevent age bias in hiring, consider the following:

  • Place job advertisements in a wide range of places such as online job boards, community newspapers, and with organizations focused on placing older workers.
  • Remove biased language from job descriptions, like “new grads,” “young,” or “energetic.”
  • Don’t require applicants to list their birthdate on forms.
  • Stay away from ageist interview questions(ex. “How old are you?” or “Aren’t you overqualified for this job?”).
  • Avoid stereotyping older workers (ex. someone 60 years old will retire soon and isn’t worth hiring).

5. Don’t Approach Layoffs Based on Age or Pay

When it’s time for layoffs or a reduction in force, be careful not to base decisions on age. For example, just because you think an older employee might be retiring soon, it’s a bad idea to let them go for that reason.

Also, in many cases, your highest paid employees are going to have more seniority — partly because they are older. So it’s bad policy to target salary as the reason for an employee’s dismissal — a point that’s illustrated in an EEOC age discrimination case. The EEOC filed a lawsuit against a billing services firm for firing a 60-year-old employee because of her age while keeping a younger, less qualified employee. The company ended up paying out $32,000 to the former employee.

Embracing A Multigenerational Workplace Is the Best Age Discrimination Solution

The best resolution for age discrimination is to embrace a multigenerational workforce. That means recognizing that all your employees, no matter their age, can contribute to your organization’s success. In addition, it means creating a culture that welcomes employees and recognizes the unique strengths they bring to the table — and that includes their age.

Online Compliance Training

EVERFI designs global ethics and compliance courses that educate employees on important skills relating to harassment, diversity, security and culture—protecting your people and your bottom line.