Aging population faces workplace discrimination
Federal and state laws prohibit discriminating against workers over the age of 40.
Americans now have life expectancies well into their 80s. Our aging population is now waiting longer for retirement than ever before, so there are more and more middle-aged and elderly people in the workforce. People are putting off leaving their jobs because they need a bigger retirement fund (to last longer than in the past) and there is an increased societal emphasis on personal purpose and fulfillment.
Older workers bring with them a lifetime of experience and a wealth of knowledge, but they may still face bias or harassment in the workplace and in the hiring process.
What actions are prohibited?
It is sometimes difficult to prove that the negative employment-related actions older workers face was the result of age-related bias. That being said, without the presence of a non-age-related reason (known as a “Reasonable Factor Other than Age” or RFOA), an employment decision could be discriminatory in nature. Examples include:
- Including age limits in job postings; this is only allowed when age is a “bona fide occupational qualification” (i.e., a person’s age is key to the job itself, like modeling for a child’s clothing line, or a director seeking teenage actors for a movie role)
- Creating a hostile work environment by disrespecting or mocking an older worker due to their age, like calling someone “grandpa” or “grandma”
- Laying off older workers and hiring younger ones to give the company a “fresh perspective” or “new blood”
- Demoting, firing or refusing to allow older workers to advance, instead giving opportunities to younger ones with less experience or education
The striking truth
A 2017 study performed by economists at the University of California provides, for the first time, scientific data that proves discrimination against older workers is alive and well. The research team sent out 40,000 resumes to determine if age-related discrimination existed in the hiring process. They found that workers over the age of 40 faced barriers in both hiring and interviewing for positions.
Younger workers got interviews much more often than older workers did, even when skill, experience and education was otherwise identical. Elderly workers (those 65 and older) got interviews less often than any other demographic.
Legal action recovery
Legal actions against employers could result in a systemic culture change in a company regarding the treatment of older workers. In addition, victims of discrimination could be eligible for:
- Back pay (including unearned bonuses, advances or awards)
- “Front pay”
- Attorney’s fees, expert witness fees and court costs