The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently issued a report about age discrimination that reads like a wake-up call. Essentially, 50 years have passed since the passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and age discrimination is still a significant problem in our society. The EEOC noted:
After 50 years of a federal law whose purpose is to promote the employment of older workers based on ability, age discrimination remains too common and too accepted. Indeed, 6 out of 10 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace and 90 percent of those say it is common.
The report found that only 3% of those who have experienced age discrimination have complained to their employer or to a government agency. Three out of four older workers claim that age was an obstacle to finding a job. In fact, both finding as well as keeping a job has become more difficult for older workers. Statistics reflect an increase in the percentage of wrongful termination claims alleging violations of the ADEA. At the same time, studies demonstrate age-related bias in hiring, especially in areas such as the tech sector. Older people take longer to find work and are often forced to accept jobs at a lower rate of pay. The report also emphasizes the potentially significant financial consequences employers face should they engage in age discrimination. The EEOC cited several recently settled claims involving mandatory retirement policies, including: Johnson & Higgins for $28.1 million; and Sidley and Austin for $27.5 million. Other age discrimination claims involving 3M and Texas Roadhouse were resolved for $15 million and $12 million, respectively.
There are several steps that the EEOC recommends that employers take regarding the perils and risks associated with age-based bias. The first is to make a concerted effort to focus on changing practices and attitudes. An organization’s leadership is critical in promoting a culture that is “committed to a multi-generational workplace where all workers can grow and thrive,” according to the EEOC. This commitment can be reflected in hiring materials posted on websites and social media. It is also necessary to recognize, understand, and to then reject age-related assumptions and stereotypes. Also, it is good practice to include the subject of age in diversity and inclusion programs. Furthermore, it is recommended that employers take the time to teach recruiters and interviewers how to avoid assumptions and stereotypes that are based on age. Finally, it should be noted that statistics show that workers over the age of 50 have the highest levels of engagement in the workplace. As such, it would benefit any employer to implement retention strategies that are designed to avoid unexpected turnover and loss of institutional knowledge.