Age discrimination is not a hot-button issue when compared to discrimination based on gender or race. But it does go through cycles of public discussion, particularly during periods of economic recession when it is difficult for nearly anyone to find work.
If you’re an employer, the reassuring news is that age discrimination claims can be difficult for workers to prove. But you should still be concerned about preventing age discrimination as well as the incorrect appearance of it. Even if you win the case, defending yourself in litigation means legal expenses and possibly bad publicity.
Address the obvious liability issues
In recent years, some major tech firms have been sued for age discrimination in their hiring practices because their job postings use phrases like “seeking young and innovative disrupters.” Tech is already seen as an industry dismissive of older workers, and putting apparent bias in widely circulated written materials is easy evidence for someone filing a discrimination claim.
If you are in charge of approving employment postings for your company, check the copy for more than just spelling and grammar errors. Try to see how things to be interpreted negatively. A little self-scrutiny now could save you a lot of public scrutiny later.
Be mindful of how employees speak to each other
Some employees (current or former) who file age discrimination claims cite evidence of a hostile work environment. If it is common for employees to make jokes about aging and feebleness/incompetence (especially around older employees), it is important for leadership to step in put a stop to it. These jokes may ultimately be minor, but they could add fuel to a discrimination claim.
Be Ready With A Counter-Narrative
Finally, many age discrimination claims assert that a firing or layoff decision intentionally targeted older workers. For example, if many of the most senior employees of a company are laid off at the same time, it would be easy to interpret this action as age discrimination.
When taking such an action, you need to be ready with a counter-narrative to compete with the allegations of discrimination. For instance, when a company is in financial trouble, it may choose to lay off the most senior employees because they are also the highest-paid workers on staff. Laying off a few high-paid workers achieves the financial objectives while reducing the number of total layoffs.
Consult with an attorney on major employment decisions
If you are ever in doubt about a particular policy or employment decision, it’s a good idea to consult with an employment law attorney before implementing it. You could save yourself considerable, time, stress and potential liability.