“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This proverb sums up some employers’ attitudes when refusing to invest in older workers. However, as humans, not dogs, there is no reason to apply this logic to your employees. It would be discriminatory if you did.
Age discrimination can take many forms
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers aged 40 or older. You might not be aware of what employees and the law could consider discriminatory. Here are some examples:
- Being overlooked for training: This is one of the many age-based discriminatory behaviors people often experience as they grow older. While some cultures respect their elders, here in the U.S., there can be a tendency to equate aging with a deterioration in capability.
- Being overlooked for promotion: Most people are now moving more frequently between jobs. The chance of anyone you promote still being there in five or 10 years is slim. Be sure you are not subconsciously choosing a younger person because of their age. An older person may fill that role as well, if not better, for the same period.
- A hostile environment: As an employer, you are responsible for maintaining a healthy work environment. If some workers’ ageist comments or actions create an uncomfortable work environment for another, you need to address it. If you fail to act, the employee affected could take legal action.
In 2019, 15,573 employees filed an age discrimination case against their employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While they dismissed 73% of these as having no reasonable cause, it suggests there is work required to ensure all workers feel treated equally regardless of age. If an employee brings a case against you, it is crucial to understand your options.