Are you discriminating against older job candidates?

Minnesota employers should know that discriminating against workers can get them into trouble. State and federal laws prohibit discrimination against employees and potential employees based on gender, race, religion, disability, nationality, and other protected classes–including age. But what feels like discrimination to a candidate or current employee may seem completely legitimate to an employer.

Determining which side is right can be complicated, as noted in this NPR article on age discrimination.

Most people recognize overt, explicit types of age discrimination. For example, refusing to hire someone who is over 40 simply because they are over 40, or because they are nearing retirement, would likely be deemed discriminatory. However, it cannot be denied that age often goes hand-in-hand with legitimate job requirements, for example, years of experience and/or familiarity with new technology. As a result, the way age is used in making employment decisions can lead to complications and confusion.

For example, an employer can specify that it will only consider job candidates with a certain degree of experience, without its requirement being deemed discriminatory against younger workers. In contrast, only seeking young job candidates because it’s assumed they are familiar with current trends and technologies (while assuming older workers are not) could be considered discrimination. Years of experience is demonstrable and in some cases essential to performing the job duties; assumptions born out of stereotypes are not a good measure of a candidate until that assumption is shown to be true (or false).

To avoid the pitfalls, ask candidates about their specific skills and areas of mastery. Are you proficient in Excel? Can you create a PowerPoint? Avoid judging a candidate’s qualifications based purely on age or date of graduation.

Discrimination is undoubtedly a serious issue, and violating the law will come with consequences. However, it is typically not a black-or-white issue. The fact is that there is a lot of gray when it comes to discrimination claims, and employers and employees each have the right to work with an attorney to protect themselves and their rights should a legal dispute arise.