It is against the law to discriminate against workers on the basis of age, but age discrimination can be hard to identify, and even harder to prevent. Unchecked, it can create an intimidating work environment and interfere with work performance, morale, and employment and advancement opportunities for older workers.
The first step toward avoiding age discrimination in the workplace is to understand exactly what it is, and identify potential problems within your organization or company. You can take action now to reduce or eliminate such discrimination. Some effective strategies include an appraisal of your organization's culture, preventive training, revision of hiring and screening processes, carefully crafted benefits and retirement policies, and a renewed commitment to provide a supportive work environment for adults of all ages. This requires a well-thought-out plan and the commitment of management.
Effective training sessions can raise employee awareness of discriminatory practices. Encourage (or require) participation in these sessions for employees at every level of the organization. The focus of the training should go beyond mere information to include real changes in behavior.
Peer reinforcement is also helpful. Encourage employees to speak up when they encounter or witness harassment firsthand. Individual responsibility should be emphasized.
Points to remember when hiring:
- A candidate who has only five years left until retirement may be with your organization longer than the average new hire.
- Salary requirements should not be assumed on the basis of age.
- Take "date of birth" off your job application forms. Concentrate on skills and ability instead. Use a mixed-age interview panel in the selection process whenever possible. Make sure interviewers ask job-related questions, and do not base hiring decisions on prejudice or stereotypes.
- Come up with a structure for evaluating job candidates, and apply the same criteria to all applicants.
- Be sure that everyone who interviews candidates is familiar with age discrimination laws.
- Place job advertisements where they will reach workers of all ages.
Once your team is in place:
- Pair older and younger workers together on projects so they can learn from each other.
- Provide adequate training for all jobs.
- Clearly communicate your organization's age discrimination policy by posting it on bulletin boards or on the company intranet. The policy should include harassment definitions, remedies, consequences, reporting procedures, grievance processes, and anti-retaliation language.
- Communicate the fact that you value professional development for all employees by including it in performance evaluations.
- Encourage reluctant workers to develop, using employees who have benefited from training as role models. Investing in training and developing older workers can be as worthwhile as investing in younger workers, as turnover for older workers is generally lower.
- Focus on skills, abilities, and potential. Avoid age cutoffs for promotions or training.
- Encourage mentoring in your department. Workers of any age can pass on their experience, and help others develop through the use of their knowledge, skills, and expertise.
- Set a good example, and make it clear to everyone that discrimination of any kind is not tolerated by your company.
Visit the official Web site of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which includes helpful information on discrimination in the workplace. Also review the full text of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).