HR Management & Compliance, Talent

Age Bias—It's Easy to Step into a Discrimination Claim

In an article for ProPublica by Peter Gosselin and Ariana Tobin, the authors use IBM as a case study for the dangers of organizations leaving themselves open to claims of age discrimination. IBM was one of the original “tech” companies—so original that it seems old school compared with names like Facebook, Amazon, and even Microsoft.
As Gosselin and Tobin write, “when high tech suddenly started shifting and companies went global, IBM faced the changing landscape with a distinction most of its fiercest competitors didn’t have: a large number of experienced and aging U.S. employees.” ProPublica’s story goes into great detail on the legal and PR challenges facing IBM as stories of its hiring and firing practices, and the impact of those practices on an aging workplace, unfold.
Other companies can glean valuable information from IBM’s example.

What Is Age Bias?

For starters, what exactly is age discrimination? It’s not hard to imagine the gist of it, but let’s look at the formal definition. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age.” The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) has long forbidden age discrimination against people over 40. Younger workers are not protected under the ADA, although some state laws address this group. Interestingly, according to the EEOC, “It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older.”

Common Claims

AARP offers a succinct article on “10 Age Discrimination Facts,” but we can boil down the common claims that face most companies. In general, age discrimination claims arise when older employees are passed over for a job opening in favor of a younger candidate, passed over for promotion in favor of a younger employee, let go and replaced with a younger employee, or generally treated differently and negatively relative to younger employees.
No group should be discriminated against in the workplace, and that obviously includes older workers. But many organizations are unaware of the pitfalls that lurk when it comes to claims of age discrimination. Knowing what it is and the common types of claims is key to coming up with strategies on how to prevent them and can save a company a lot of headaches, as well as legal and financial liability.