Age Discrimination in the Recruiting & Hiring Process

The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 banned most workplace age limits and required equal treatment of employees without regard to age. However, despite this legislation which was created to avoid discrimination, age discrimination in the workplace continues to be an ongoing problem, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the government office responsible for enforcing the act — pursuing more than 20,000 cases each year.

And according to surveys conducted by AARP, Inc., not being hired due to age is the most common type of discrimination currently experienced. Both PricewatershouseCoopers (PwC) and Google are currently under investigation for discriminatory hiring practices targeted at older workers. And Texas Roadhouse, a national restaurant chain, agreed to pay out $12 million earlier this year because it rejected applicants over 40 years of age from customer-facing positions, such as servers, hosts, and bartenders.

Perhaps most concerning is that many of these businesses do not actively seek to bar older applicants, but due to short-sighted policies or unintentionally discriminatory hiring practices, the end result is still the same. Conversely, with a little forethought and effort, your business will be ahead of the competition in avoiding age discrimination in the workplace.

Ways to Avoid Age Discrimination in the Hiring Process

1. Where you look

While college campuses are a great resource to find entry-level staff, they should not be the only place you search. If you do, you’ll potentially be overlooking a large pool of candidates with a rich history of current work experience who are currently seeking to change fields or industries. In fact, the American Institute for Economic Research projects that anywhere between 16 and 29 million workers over the age of 45 that are active in today’s workforce have attempted a career change.

Similarly, if your organization is looking for part-time support, you might consider sharing the opportunity beyond your social media page. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, workers over the age of 55 were more likely to hold part-time positions than their younger peers.

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2. What you say

Depending on how you word your job postings, your organization could be unintentionally discouraging older candidates from applying. For example, by placing a cap on an applicant’s experience levels (e.g., “looking for candidates with 3-5 years experience”), many workers with more years in the field may choose to not apply for the position despite being interested in the work and attracted to the posted pay rate. In order to avoid discrimination in the workplace, employers should consider just stating your minimum requirements for the position (e.g., “looking for candidates with 3+ years experience”).

Other terms or phrases you should consider avoiding include:

  • “Young”
  • “Digital native”
  • “New blood”
  • “Recent graduate”

Recognizing this concept, one software company that develops recruiting solutions was able to help some of its customers with a similar issue, increasing their female job applicant rate by 23 percent by eliminating discouraging phrases, such as “coding ninja” and “fast-paced work environment,” from their job listings.

3. What information you consider

It’s hard to discriminate against a job candidate for their age if you don’t know how old they are. One strategy of how to avoid age discrimination in the workplace is to transition to a blind recruiting strategy that strips resumes of irrelevant details — age, name, gender, race — that could trigger both conscious and unconscious assumptions on the part of reviewers.

To further limit the influence that individual biases can have on hiring decisions, consider using a team to make recruiting decisions rather than the opinion of a single manager.

4. How you treat current staff

If your business doesn’t already foster an inclusive culture that makes your existing employees feel welcome, it’s unlikely that such a positive attitude will extend into your hiring processes. However, by giving everyone on your staff the opportunity to grow and succeed within your firm, your business will be much more likely to attract and retain top talent while preventing age discrimination in the workplace at the same time.

It’s crucial for employers to know how to avoid age discrimination in the workplace. Consider providing every one of your employees — with a special focus on key decision makers and anyone involved with hiring — with diversity and inclusion training. You might also consider providing them with education and tools to identify and mitigate any unconscious biases they may hold against older employees or any other traditionally marginalized group.

Beyond recruiting and hiring, consider implementing peer mentorship programs that match staff across age, race, and other barriers. By humanizing and contextualizing experiences that are vastly different from their own, your workers will be able to more easily embrace a broader cross-section of the workforce.

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