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Aug 16, 201809:40 AMOpen Mic

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More than just a number: Age discrimination still tripping up employers

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Despite more than five decades of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), older workers continue to face discrimination at alarming rates, according to a new report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

When the ADEA was first passed in 1967 to protect employees older than 40, the American workforce was comprised of mostly younger, male workers. Since baby boomers began entering the workforce that year, the labor force has grown rapidly while becoming more female and more diverse.

It has also aged significantly; the percentage of workers over 55 has doubled for several reasons.

First, the Great Recession took a toll on older workers’ savings, leading them to work longer. In addition, the American population is growing older, according to the United States Census Bureau. By 2030, Americans older than 65 will outnumber those under 18.

With all this in mind, why do employers still discriminate, even inadvertently, against such a large and valuable part of the workforce?

Drivers of discrimination

Whether the result of unconscious bias or deliberate thought, age discrimination is often based on outdated and unfounded assumptions. The most pervasive yet misguided perception is that as age increases, ability decreases. In fact, 44% of older workers are still employed — and thriving — in physically demanding jobs, putting them on par with the all-ages average of 46%.

Additionally, employers sometimes assume older workers will be a financial drain on company resources and choose to replace them with younger employees to save money. However, older workers are five times less likely to change jobs than younger workers, saving valuable training and recruitment resources that offset the hypothetical added cost of higher wages and health care. In addition, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1990 makes it illegal to use an employee’s age as the basis for discrimination in benefits.

Costly court cases

Employees who believe they’ve been harmed by age discrimination may file suit under several federal laws, and many states offer further protections. In one recent New Jersey case, an employee successfully sued for more than $50 million in damages, citing the ADEA, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

The EEOC reports that six out of 10 older workers have experienced age discrimination in the workplace. More than 18,000 charges were filed with the EEOC in 2017, and 90% of older workers believe age discrimination is a common practice among companies today. Only 3% have filed charges, however, suggesting the problem is significantly underreported.

While age discrimination can substantially harm your company in subtle ways, including a lack of diversity, loss of talent, etc., it can also take a measurable toll on your bottom line. Since 1997, the monetary awards received by victims of age discrimination who filed charges with the EEOC have more than doubled.


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