Is your organization at risk of being accused of age discrimination in the workplace or in the organization’s hiring practices?
One of the main laws related to age discrimination is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) summarizes it as follows:
“The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.”
Let’s take a look at how employers can reduce the chances of being accused of age discrimination in recruiting.
When it comes to recruiting, the first line of defense is to have an appropriate job post.
“The ADEA generally makes it unlawful to include age preferences, limitations, or specifications in job notices or advertisements.”
As such, here are some tips:
- Don’t use phrases like “Millennials wanted” or “recent graduates only”—be wary of any language that would discourage older applicants from applying.
- Note what experience is needed, not what age is desired.
- Be aware that the words used in the job description will impact who applies.
- List the salary on offer. This will help reduce the number of applicants who would not be willing to work for that salary, which is one reason employers may want to exclude older applicants in the first place. By listing salary, you have a better chance of receiving applicants who are OK with the salary—without needing to exclude someone based on age.
- Be sure to post the job across several platforms so you’re not discriminating based on where applicants come from.
These are all applicable, even for entry-level jobs. It’s fine to state that a job is entry-level in the field, but let applicants show their interest from there, and proceed with those who are qualified. Don’t make assumptions on what a candidate will or won’t want or be willing to do in a role.
The next step is to ensure the application process doesn’t discriminate or appear to open the door for discrimination—even if that isn’t the intent. From that standpoint, don’t ask for years or age when it’s not required.
For example, don’t ask for what year someone graduated. If a specific degree or certification is required, ask the applicant to list that, but don’t require completion dates. Another example is to avoid directly asking for age or birth date.
Instead, only ask if someone is over 18 (if necessary). By not asking age, it’s harder for someone to claim it was used as a factor.
Finally, when creating the short list of applicants to interview, be sure not to discount someone based on age, even for entry-level roles. More experienced candidates could desire an entry-level role for many reasons. For example:
- They could be transitioning to an easier role.
- They may want less stress, a change of pace, or fewer hours.
- They may be changing industries and starting at entry level.
- They may want to learn something new.
- They may want to utilize skills not previously used in other roles.
If you’re concerned that a more experienced person will be uninterested once he or she learns the role details and you don’t want to waste the person’s time, tackle this by making the job post clear on the position’s level and responsibilities, and let people self-select from there.
If they still apply, treat them like everyone else. Don’t make assumptions on what they’ll want. Making these types of assumptions would be like assuming a young woman won’t want to travel or assuming a new parent won’t want a promotion; it’s not safe to make assumptions on what others will want, and doing so could easily be construed as discriminatory.
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.