Age Discrimination in the Workplace


Having watched two close friends go through an agonizing job search over the last six months, and hearing various stories from candidates I work with, I felt an article on age discrimination in hiring might be timely.Age Discrimination

In a struggling economy, employment discrimination claims tend to rise, as job seekers attribute their job losses to discrimination.  Older workers are part of the trend of increasing discrimination claims.  With their increased experience and skill-sets, salaries are generally higher, making them a higher cost to employers.  In addition, stereotypes about losses associated with age, such as speed and information retention may give employers pause in hiring older employees.  Thankfully, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) provides relief for workers facing age discrimination.

Discrimination against employees over the age of 40 is illegal under the ADEA but it is still a common occurrence. In 2013 there were 21,396 charges filed in this field.   Age discrimination occurs when someone is refused something that would normally be offered to them, if that decision is simply based on their age.  In many cases, this is hard to prove.


There are several types of age discrimination with employment discrimination being of the highest

Position-based discrimination – This is when an employee does not receive promotion or are denied an internal position based on age.  If someone younger, with less experience is being paid more, this could also be considered position-based discrimination.

The Hiring Process- Discrimination during the hiring process occurs when a candidate is selected based on criteria other than the applicant’s qualifications.  The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission administers laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religion, age (40 and over), national origin, color, disability and genetic information. This however, is not always the case.

How to Avoid Discrimination

Hiring Managers

As a hiring manager, you can perform a job analysis, including listing the major duties required and the type of expertise/skills mandated.  Spell out the amount of education and experience needed to perform the required duties.  If physical requirements are part of the job duties, it is best to have candidates demonstrate their ability to carry out the task; such as lifting heavy boxes.  Otherwise, it is could be easy to discriminate based on gender/age assumptions.

During the interview process, work from a prepared list of questions to be used for every candidate.  Having a panel of interviewers can also reduce the chances of inadvertently judging a candidate based on inappropriate reasons.  Be sure to document the answers to each question from all candidates as well.


From the candidates perspective, there are also a few do’s and don’ts.   The combination of age and gender discrimination can be a double-whammy for female job seekers.  It’s helpful to embody ‘younger’ qualities such as being physically fit, energetic and the ability to fit in with the current company culture.  Rather than highlighting the many positions you’ve held in the past, focus on the skills you have amassed.  And, as much as we hate to admit it, the world does judge by appearances.  Arrive at your interview well dressed, with up to date and age-appropriate styles.

It seems to me that all of the above goes without saying, but I am amazed at the number of ‘experienced’ candidates I come across that are struggling to find a new position.  I’ve heard a scary amount of stories from nightmare interviews they’ve had where they felt the interviewer was only interested in their ‘expiration date’!


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