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EEOC: Age Discrimination and Outdated Stereotypes Persist, Limit Economic Growth

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Hiring Rates by Age and Gender, Relative to Men Age 25-34

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently held a public meeting at their Washington, DC headquarters to explore age discrimination, dispel stereotypes about older workers and emphasize the importance of the ADEA to the economy and to workers’ financial security.

In her opening remarks at the meeting, entitled “The ADEA @50 − More Relevant Than Ever,” Acting EEOC Chair Victoria Lipnic said that with so many more people working and living longer, “we can’t afford to allow age discrimination to waste the knowledge, skills and talent of older workers.”

Enacted in 1967, the ADEA protects employees and job applicants who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against an individual because of age in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments and training. It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for objecting to ageist employment practices or for filing an age discrimination charge or participating in an investigation or legal action under the ADEA.

Here are some of the meeting’s live-tweet takeaways and highlights from the written testimony of the panel of experts:

@USEEOC

  • Age discrimination cuts across all races, industries & geographic areas.
  • Outdated assumptions about age & work not only harm older workers and their families, but harm our economy.
  • The EEOC has received over 20,000 age discrimination charges steadily over past few years. Since 2010, women have filed more charges.
  • More than half of the labor force (54%) is now age 40.+

Panelists

Patrick Button, Assistant Professor of Economics at Tulane University and a researcher with the National Bureau of Economic Research Disability Research Center (NBER):

  • Nearly two-thirds of workers age 55-64 report their age is a barrier to getting a job, according to a 2017 AARP survey.
  • A comprehensive study in 2015 using resumes for workers at various ages found significant discrimination in hiring for both female and the oldest applicants.

Laurie McCann, a senior attorney for AARP Foundation Litigation:

  • Hiring discrimination and mandatory retirement are persistent problems that older workers face across industries.
  • The EEOC should strengthen ADEA protections and enforcement to ensure older workers are treated fairly at work.
  • Only 9% of companies include age discrimination in their diversity and inclusion programs, according to an AARP.

John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas:

  • A combination of societal tradition and flawed business practices that channel older people out of the workforce, especially skilled workers, is damaging the economic health of our country.
  • If more older workers stayed in the workforce, it would significantly reduce the skilled worker shortage in the US.

Jacqueline James, The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College:

  • Experts expect the older worker population to grow, while the younger workforce will shrink.
  • Biases can be explicit or implicit, real or imagined, but, our impulse to create social categories is practically unavoidable. 
  • Employers have been slow to innovate in preventing age bias and addressing older workers’ preferences in recruitment and hiring and retention.

Refuting myths and stereotypes
Despite research that disproves the notion that older workers are less productive, technophobic or inflexible, stereotypes still exist, often preventing or negatively impacting job opportunities for older people, said panelist Sara Czaja, director of the Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE).  

As for the myth that older workers are absent more often and have higher turnover rates – not true, Czaja said. In fact, older workers tend to be more reliable than their younger co-workers.

Employers could do a better job of integrating older workers into the workforce by first recognizing their value and by matching their skills and abilities with work environments, Czaja explained. Some practical ways to do that include making sure the workplace meets ergonomic standards and guidelines for older people, providing more flexible work schedules, accommodating competing family demands and ensuring technology systems and applications are designed for older workers to use effectively.

Traliant Insight
The principle of the ADEA is that ability matters − not age, said EEOC Acting Chair Lipnic in marking the ADEA’s 50th anniversary. Organizations that want to benefit from a wider pool of skilled, experienced workers − and avoid age discrimination claims − can start by making HR managers and employees aware of conscious and unconscious age bias, and then ensuring hiring practices, policies, diversity and inclusion programs and discrimination training all address age and negative stereotypes and attitudes toward workers over 40.

Information about the ADEA is available on a special section of the EEOC’s website at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/adea50th/index.cfm. The panelists’ written testimony can be found at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/6-14-17/index.cfm. The public is invited to make written comments on issues discussed at the meeting by emailing the EEOC at Commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov.

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