Americans are living longer these days, and many look to stay employed past the traditional age of retirement, either because of economic necessity or because they enjoy working. Despite the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, there is mounting evidence that some employers or hiring managers are adhering to an old habit of avoiding new hires who are middle-aged and up, particularly women.
In one comprehensive study, there were 40,000 instances where researchers filed fake applications of varying ages for low-skill jobs like administrative assistants, janitors and retail clerks. Overall, the older the fake applicant got fewer callbacks with the worst numbers going to the oldest fake applicants.
Difficult to prove
There have been hundreds of lawsuits regarding age discrimination in hiring practices, but most of these are hard to prove. Generally, companies that lose these cases are the ones where there are specific hiring characteristics, whether it is age or some other bias. Nevertheless, the Circuit Courts have recently ruled in cases involving CareFusion and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco that it is legal for employers to put limits on experience (which critics claim is shorthand for age discrimination). The Supreme Court has so far declined to review these cases.
It is best to avoid accusations
Charges of age discrimination can impact the reputation of a company as well as employee morale. Questions to avoid during interviews with applicants who appear to be older include:
- How old are you?
- When do you expect to retire?
- Are you married?
Mixed employee pool is a healthy one
Employment experts point out that hiring workers of the same age and background can create a stifling and overly competitive work environment. Life experience, education and other demographic factors contribute to a balanced workforce and a better pipeline of promotable staff.
An experienced employment law attorney can work with companies so the client can avoid the appearance of bias or discrimination. This is done by creating policies to protect the rights of all workers and providing strategies for finding the right hires, regardless of their demographic.