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May 4, 2021

Identifying Ageism in Your Organization

Age discrimination in an organization refers to when a potential or current worker is treated less favorably because of their age. It is illegal in Great Britain, the United States, and the European Union. However, ageism can be difficult to identify because some discriminatory practices are so common that they seem normal. In this post, we’ll look at what the law says in each of these territories and highlight some of the most common types of discrimination.

Age Discrimination Laws in Great Britain

Ageism is covered under Great Britain’s Equality Act 2010. This piece of legislation also prohibits discrimination on the basis of eight other characteristics, including race, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. The act covers everyone who is treated differently because of their age and not just people who would be considered “older.” Rather, it states that an individual should not be discriminated against because:

  • They are or are not in a certain age group or of a certain age
  • Someone thinks they are or are not in a specific age group or of a certain age
  • They are associated with someone of a specific age or age group

The discriminatory treatment can be intentional or unintentional. It can be based on a policy or rule, or it may be a one-off action.

Age Discrimination Laws in the EU

In 2000, the EU issued a directive that bans discrimination on the basis of age in employment and occupation. It protects any individual who:

  • Is treated unfairly when applying for a job because of their age
  • Experiences name-calling or jokes from colleagues because of their age
  • Is refused training or promotion because of their age

Discrimination on the basis of age is also prohibited under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In addition, there are various national laws that vary from country to country.

Age Discrimination Laws in the US

In the U.S., the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) outlaws age discrimination against people who are 40 years old and over. Under this law, discrimination is prohibited in any aspect of employment. This includes hiring, pay, promotion, layoff, and benefits. 

Common Forms of Age Discrimination

Ageism can take varying forms, and legislation varies considerably across jurisdictions. However, it may be:

  • Direct –  This is when an employer or colleague treats an individual less favorably than another because of their age. For example, an organization may overlook mature employees for training and development opportunities because they are “too old.”
  • Indirect – This is when a policy or practice applies to everyone, but it puts mature workers at a particular disadvantage. For example, an employer may require all employees to pass a fitness test even though it has nothing to do with their ability to carry out their job functions. This would likely disadvantage 50-plus employees.
  • Harassment. What passes for humor in many organizations is actually harassment.  Older employees may feel offended, distressed, or humiliated by comments about their appearance or assumed lack of technological savvy.
  • Victimization. This is covered under the Equality Act. It refers to when an employee complains about age discrimination or supports someone who does and is treated badly as a result.

Signs of Ageism in Your Organization

Most recruiters and hiring managers would reject the idea that they discriminate against mature employees. However, it can be difficult to identify when your own policies and practices are biased. Signs that you may be discriminating against mature workers include:

  • A workplace filled solely with people under 50. If your employees don’t reflect the demographics of your customer base or the larger population, it’s possible that you may not be doing enough to attract and retain 50-plus employees.
  • You believe older people can’t manage modern technology and their health is declining on account of their age. These are stereotypes that have been proven to be incorrect, and believing them harms both the individual and the organization. Assess each employee or potential hire as an individual.
  • You’re not actively working to challenge biases and create a multigenerational workforce. People are living and working longer, but society continues to glorify youth while viewing aging in a negative light. Age bias is likely to be a feature in your organization unless you address it.

Build a Multigenerational Workforce with Help from WiseForce Advisors

You don’t have to tackle ageism on your own. We have a suite of solutions to help you navigate this process. Contact us at info@wiseforceadvisors.com to book a consultation and learn about our Age Management Readiness Questionnaire, Corporate Awareness Sessions, and Age Management Workshops for Managers.