How to fight age discrimination in the workplace

Ageism creates a ‘range of hazards’ for employers – from discrimination lawsuits to demotivated employees

How to fight age discrimination in the workplace

Despite measures to ensure a level playing field for workers young and old, the problem of ageism persists in the modern workplace.

In fact, more than 18,000 age discrimination cases were filed in the US in 2017 alone, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Fighting ageism in the workplace can also be costly. Employers facing age discrimination complaints before the EEOC have forked over a total of US$810.4m to settle charges filed from 2010 to 2018.

“Ageism creates a range of hazards for employers, including discrimination lawsuits, demotivated employees and the lost opportunity costs associated with devaluing older workers,” noted the 2019 Hiscox Ageism in the Workplace study.

READ MORE: Are older workers being edged out of job opportunities?

Global specialist insurer Hiscox surveyed 400 full-time workers aged 40 and above, and found:

  • More than two in five employees (44%) claim they or someone they know has experienced age discrimination
  • More than one in three (36%) believe their age has hindered them from getting a job after they turned 40
  • More than one in four (26%) fear they could lose their current job because of their age

Fear of hostility and retaliation
While employers and employees alike are becoming aware of the legal, financial and psychosocial risks of age discrimination at work, only 40% of those who have encountered such bias have chosen to file a formal complaint – either with their employer (75%) or a relevant government agency (48%).

  • 54% say they opted not to file charges for fear of “creating a hostile work environment”
  • 24% say they opted not to file charges because they were unsure of how to initiate a complaint
  • 51% of those who claim to have witnessed an incident opted not to report it
  • 62% of witnesses who opted to stay silent cited fear of retaliation for ignoring the incident

Stereotypes of older workers
Discrimination against older employees stems from “ill-founded generalizations that diminish the value they can bring to their employers and co-workers,” the study suggested.

“Among workers aged 40 and over, there is a perception that they are somehow ‘washed up’ professionally, and that they are seen by their younger co-workers as being set in their ways, are not tech savvy and unmotivated,” the researchers noted.

Common myths surrounding the supposed attitude and performance of older employees include:

  • Being resistant to change or to learning new skills
  • Failing to appreciate or understand technology
  • Being too highly compensated to retain
  • Being complacent, unmotivated or difficult to manage

 “Whether these beliefs are held by younger colleagues or not, they affect older workers on the job,” the researchers said.

How to combat age discrimination in the workplace
While the first step to preventing age discrimination is to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture, a number of organisations are also now opting for employment practices liability insurance. EPL insurance provides coverage to employers for violations that range from wrongful termination to discrimination to retaliation.

Apart from having an extra insurance policy, however, employers may also benefit from holding workforce training sessions designed to expose instances of discrimination, and educate employees about “overt and subtle forms of ageism that can infect a workplace,” the study suggested.

Organisations should also enhance their strategies for detecting instances of bias by holding “periodic, anonymous employee surveys to gauge the existence and extent of ageism in the workplace”.

If a complaint is filed, employers should remember their duty to respond promptly and investigate claims thoroughly. “This should include interviews with all parties immediately connected to the complaint, any witnesses, and a review of other relevant evidence,” the report said.

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