Age discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of an employee based on their age. Decisions based on age is prohibited in any phase of employment including job descriptions, interviews, hiring, salaries, assignments, performance evaluation, training, promotions and demotions, rewards, and layoffs.
Age discrimination in the workplace more often affects older people, but there are also cases where younger people have faced discrimination because of their age. Laws preventing and dealing with discrimination have helped in reducing blatant ageism in the workplace, however, subtle discrimination is ever present in the workplace.
Age discrimination legislation
In the United States, Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 protects people of age 40 and over from employment discrimination. The ADEA is provides protection to both employees and job applicants.
Any action that has adverse effects on a disproportionate number of employees over 40 is also considered age discrimination under this law. As a matter of fact, the ADEA has made it legal to favor older workers based on age even when this affects younger workers.
Similarly, the Age Discrimination Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010 provide legal protection for workers in the United Kingdom and Australia respectively.
Different types of age discrimination
Direct discrimination occurs when an employer unfairly treats an employee or job applicant exclusively because of his or her age.
Example: Your employer excludes you from a training course because she thinks you’re too old.
Indirect discrimination occurs when a company policy that applies to everyone puts an age group at a disadvantage. The policy or practice seems to treat all workers the same but in reality it is discriminatory to someone because of their age.
Example: Your employer has a policy that allows only employees with a postgraduate qualification to be promoted. Although this rule applies to everyone, it disadvantages younger people who are less likely to have that qualification.
Harassment is also a form of age discrimination. Any offensive or derogatory remarks or behaviour by a colleague or employer in the workplace that is based on one’s age is harassment.
Example: Your manager continuously refers to you as “grandpa” or “grandma.”
Victimisation can occur as a form of retaliation from employers after an employee files an age discrimination claim or complains about age discrimination. Employers can also victimise the supporters of those who complain of discrimination.
Example: You help your older coworker file a complaint about bullying at work by posing as a witness. A few weeks later, you are denied promotion even though you have the necessary experience and skills.
Managing age discrimination
Older workers are a vital part of a workforce because of their long term contribution and experience. Companies that want their employees to prosper and have a productive work life need to create an open environment where workers of all age group feel valued and respected. Here are some ways to counter age discrimination in the workplace:
Inclusive training programs
Training and development programs should be open to all employees.
Discrimination and diversity training
To prevent age discrimination claims, supervisors and employees should receive training on topics such as implicit bias and team building.
Companies should have clearly defined policies to deal with discrimination and harassment. Managers and human resource must strictly enforce company policies in case of unfair treatment based on age.
It’s often older workers who bear the brunt of corporate takeovers and business downsizings. Companies should be thoughtful and avoid making layoff decisions based purely on age.
Phased retirement is a strategy which helps older workers transition to full time retirement. It may include gradual reduction of work hours, pay levels, and part time work. Phased retirement programs help employers retain skilled older employees while reducing labor costs.