How Old is Too Old? How Young is Too Young?
When making a hiring decision, neither of these questions should be on the list. Not only is it illegal (according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), but it may prevent you from hiring the best candidate.
Some hiring managers may be thinking "what will my customers think of this person (based on their age)? If you are in the financial services industry, how is the 22 year old recent college grad with a degree in finance going to be received versus the 49 year old without the degree? What if the older candidate doesn't even have a strong background in the financial arena? Sometimes, a hire can be made just because the person "looks the part". This rarely, if even, ends well.
Look at it from the reverse perspective. What about the the 55 year old who is applying for the SEO position? Is the hiring manager going to be worried about how this gray-haired is going to look when meeting clients for the first time? If this applicant didn't grow up in the digital age, how can they compare to the Gen Xer?
Most age-related discrimination will be directed toward the older employer. Some of it will be subtle, perhaps even well-intentioned. There is a specific language used in age discrimination. John Rosengreen recently wrote about this in AARP, Dec. 20, 2019.
When people think of age discrimination, they usually envision workers fired, denied promotions or never hired simply because of their age.
But what if it’s not your livelihood at stake, but more your professional identity and self-worth? What if you are bullied, made miserable or feel threatened by remarks or actions on the job that focus on your age?
Liz DiMarco Weinmann can tell you. She was in her 50s, working in Washington, D.C., for a public affairs company when, in a meeting with an important — and younger — client, she briefly forgot the name of a spokesperson. “This man started swearing and cursing at me and saying, ‘I am sick and tired of you not having your young staff here who really knows what’s going on,’ as if I were senile,” she recalls. “He took the papers that were in his hands and threw them at me from across the room.”
When Weinmann reported the episode to her manager, the boss compounded the outrage by telling her that if the company lost the account, it’d be because she couldn’t remember things. “It was totally despicable,” she recalls. “That experience was the closest I’ve ever come to thinking to myself that I would just roll up and never work again.”
Age harassment, whether it is deliberately or inadvertently hurtful language, is every bit as illegal as other forms of age discrimination. Yet verbal harassment isn’t taken as seriously. And it can be particularly difficult to get justice in the legal system if you are harassed.
“If you come home and say, ‘I’ve been accused of calling someone an ‘old fart,’ no one bats an eye,” says Michael Borrelli, an employment attorney with Borrelli & Associates in New York. “Older people are the forgotten group that no one cares about. As far as standing in society, they are totally discounted.”
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said in a recent report that age-based harassment claims more than tripled between 1992 and 2017. A national survey of 3,900 workers by AARP Research in 2018 found that nearly 1 person in 4 had heard a boss or a colleague make a negative age-based remark about them.
Is it possible to totally eliminate age discrimination in the workplace? Probably not. Is it possible to put policies and procedures in place and train your workforce accordingly? Absolutely.
If you want to know how to develop programs to ensure you have a diverse workforce free of ageism (or as much as possible), we have talented professionals at ASN who can help you with that. Give us a call - we would love to have that discussion with you.