As the workforce ages and people are working longer, understand age discrimination and how to prevent it.
The number of employed older Americans (65 years old and over) rose by nearly 35% between 2011 and 2016, and this is projected to be the fastest growing segment in the workforce through 2024. HR professionals need to ensure their company complies with the laws regarding older workers and promotes a positive environment for workers of all ages.
The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), enacted in 1990, prohibits age discrimination. Specifically, it prohibits age discrimination in the provision of benefits such as life insurance, health insurance, disability benefits, and/or pension/retirement benefits. At the same time, however, employers can reduce older employees’ benefits when clearly justified by cost considerations.
At the same time, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) contains a clause stating that employers have to prove age had nothing to do with their decision to dismiss an employee. In other words, an organization can target employees with high salaries; but they must have an explanation for it besides age, such budgetary limitations.
Whenever a company downsizes or undergoes staff cutbacks, HR should conduct an analysis to ensure that older workers aren’t being disproportionately targeted. Other ways to avoid age discrimination lawsuits and create a positive culture for older workers include:
· Engage in sensitivity training. Workers need to know that they should avoid comments about a colleague’s age such as: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
· Have a policy that includes definitions of age discrimination and reporting/grievance procedures.
· Ensure your managers/administrators are familiar with federal/state laws and committed to upholding your organization’s policy regarding age discrimination.
· Make sure that promotions, job-related training, and similar opportunities are available to all employees, regardless of age.
· Eliminate any comments that might be viewed as age-related in performance documentation.
· Encourage intergenerational relationships and mentoring. Pair workers of different ages who can share complimentary skills and knowledge with each other.