How Big of a Problem is Age Discrimination?

man with phone.jpgUnder both federal and Minnesota state law, employers cannot discriminate against an individual in terms of employment because of that person’s age. A person falls into the age-protected class as soon as they reach the ripe old age of 40.

A recent opinion article in the Washington Post reported on data showing that most workers over 50 are the victims of age discrimination. In that article, which can be read in full here, the author argues that companies regularly fire, refuse to hire, demote, or otherwise retaliate against workers because of their age.

In a time when older workers make up such a significant segment of the workforce, it suggests that both employers and employees across Minnesota could find themselves increasingly embroiled in claims related age discrimination.

A troubling picture

There are strict state and federal laws in place protecting employees from discrimination. However, employers can face challenges when it comes to complying with these laws. A statement here or a misdirected comment there could be enough to trigger a claim of discrimination. (Exs. asking and employee when they plan on retiring, or buying black balloons for an office birthday party)

And this problem isn’t getting easier to solve. Older workers increasingly want or need to stay in the workforce longer. As such, there will be more people protected–and affected–by age discrimination laws.

Further, older workers who lose their job (legitimately or as the result of discrimination) must find a new one. These workers will then face the potential for a second round of discrimination by prospective employers, as well.

How employers can avoid age discrimination claims

Unfortunately, the fears and concerns about age discrimination are only getting more prevalent, as baby boomers get older and companies strive to attract a younger audience. But there are ways employers can protect themselves–and employees–from claims of age discrimination.

Suggestions include:

  • Review job descriptions, applications, salary requirements, qualifications and other elements of a job with an attorney to avoid discriminatory policies and statements
  • Steer clear of stereotypes
  • Be responsible and mindful when making comments in meetings or professional correspondence
  • Embrace the value of a diverse workforce and the added value of experience

Making an effort to be cognizant of, and to protect employee rights can help you and your workforce avoid unnecessary disputes related to age discrimination. Questions? Give us a call.

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