Avoiding Ageism Claims, Part 2

In the previous blog in this series on age discrimination, I pointed out the necessity of employers recruiting and retaining older workers in the future. By 2020, workers over 55 will make up almost one-quarter of the workforce. If you like to hire only young, fresh, cool (and cheap) workers, in the next decade you will find that you don’t have enough people to fill all the jobs in your workplace.

But as you are employing older workers, you have to be careful that you don’t get tripped up by claims of age discrimination. I always tell the corporate and civic groups to whom I am speaking that age discrimination cases scare me more than any other kind of case.

Why? Because the fear of growing old and being considered useless is universal. Every jury member can empathize with the older plaintiff who claims that he was retired against his will to make way for some young “whippersnapper.” Also age discrimination cases are expensive to fight and expensive to lose. According to Jury Verdict Research, age discrimination cases yield the highest dollar amount verdicts of all employment cases.

So every employer should be aware of ways in which you can avoid ageism claims, both now during an economic downturn (when the number or discrimination lawsuits goes up) and as the older worker population grows. First, consider your hiring practices and resist the following mistakes:

  • Don’t ask about age or birthdates on your application or in your interview process.
  • Don’t decide that handsome young men would make the best employees, as the retail chain Abercrombie and Fitch did. Any time you are recruiting a certain look, a particular demographic, or a fit with the corporate culture, you are probably going to be discriminating, and often against older, “less attractive” workers.
  • Don’t just rely solely on campus recruiting or other methods that may not attract older applicants.
  • Avoid referring to a sales job, for example, with euphemisms such as “high energy”, “rapidly changing” or “technically demanding” in an effort to discourage older workers. Just describe the skills actually required.
  • Resist the idea that an applicant is “overqualified”. This often is an oblique reference to age. An “overqualified” person is actually a qualified person who may be willing to work for the puny salary you are offering.
  • Have a recruiting team that includes diverse ages, races, etc. who can provide unique perspectives on your applicants.

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