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Age Discrimination in the Workplace: Societal or Legal Problem?

In the wake of the #metoo movement, many have begun to champion other issues of workplace discrimination including age discrimination. Often referred to as one of the most quiet discriminatory trends in the workplace, there is no question that age discrimination is rampant and even socially acceptable to certain degrees. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) bars employment discrimination on the basis of age against any person over the age of forty.

Why Age Discrimination Occurs at Work

Despite the ADEA’s broad-stated mandate protecting older members of the workforce, many business managers either intentionally or implicitly practice age discrimination. This discrimination occurs for many reasons. From a strictly economic perspective, hiring older employees often create a workforce economic drain because the business will be required to retrain a new employee sooner once the elderly employee reaches retirement age. Additionally, many employers and even many employees find working with members of different age demographics difficult. In particular, certain industries such as IT and Silicon Valley technology companies employ a largely younger workforce, which makes it difficult to integrate older workers into a youthful “corporate culture.”

How Age Discrimination Commonly Occurs

Age discrimination can occur in a variety of ways, and the ADEA specifically bans many forms of discrimination. The first, and likely largest amount of discrimination occurs in the hiring process. Older employees continuously have their resumes passed over by prospective employers and many older employees may not appear to perform as well in interviews where the interviewer is considerably younger due to a perceived (or actual) generational divide in interests, mannerisms, and customs. Age discrimination also occurs commonly in firing practices. In large restructuring efforts at large businesses, older employees are statistically among the first employees laid off. Similarly, many employers have been caught terminating older employees in an attempt to prevent their full pension benefits from vesting. Illegal age discrimination can also occur in the employment relationship. In fact, many businesses seem to promote younger employees and deny raises to older workers because they view investing time and money in an older employee as less efficient than investing in a younger worker who may be around longer.

Older Employees Have Much to Offer

Despite older employees being discriminated against, older employees have a lot to offer businesses of all sizes. Compared to younger employees, older workers tend to have greater job experience and can more effectively react to odd situations and workplace emergencies. Additionally, older workers tend to have more life experience than younger employees, which can provide a diverse perspective in staff meetings. Finally, older employees can act as mentors for young employees, providing wisdom and sharing methods for better job performance. In fact, the EEOC recently published an age discrimination in employment report that shows hiring managers and employers are slow to recognize these potential gains. It is incumbent upon businesses to follow the nations laws like the ADEA, but is also important for businesses to recognize why the law exists. Stereotypes about older workers being slow or inefficient may have been grounded in some unfortunate reality; however, many employers who do hire older workers tend to be surprised how good of an investment that hiring decision was for their business.

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