Do You Discriminate Against Older Workers—Even Unconsciously?

Discrimination Against Baby Boomers and Generation X

Senior businessman talking to young businessman in office
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When unemployment is stretching into months or even years for many workers, employees want to know how to hold on to their jobs and human resource personnel have to know how to avoid layoffs and how to overcome an employment gap. The older crowd, in particular, is experiencing job search problems in this environment.

"Older" can mean as young as 40, and that's quite a percentage of the unemployed millions. This demographic falls into two age categories: baby boomers and Generation X.

Generation X vs. Baby Boomers

Generation Xers were born from 1965 through 1976 or 1980, depending on who you ask. Boomers, on the other hand, are a bit older, born from 1946 through 1964.

Gen Xers tend to be independent and they enjoy informality. They're entrepreneurial and they seek emotional maturity. They want to build a repertoire of skills and experiences that they can take with them if necessary, and they want their career paths laid out in front of them—or they’ll walk.

Gen Xers want balance in their lives now, not when they retire. They want time to raise their children and they don’t want to miss a minute of that as their parents—the baby boomers—did. Gen-Xers also want immediate and honest feedback. They're becoming the "older workers" in many firms as baby boomers increasingly retire.

Age Discrimination and the Unemployment Rate

Overall, younger workers have the highest unemployment rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But this is somewhat misleading because the BLS quantifies "younger" as being under age 24—a time when many potential workers are focused on education instead of working.

CNN indicates that the BLS also confirms that workers age 55 or older have the lowest unemployment rate, but this is changing. Fewer employees in this age group were employed in March 2019. Jobs held by this demographic experienced the greatest plunge in that month since February 2015.

How to Prevent Age Discrimination

Any action that an employer takes that adversely affects a disproportionate number of employees over age 40, whether they're Gen Xers or baby boomers, can be considered age discrimination. While most employers don't discriminate in their employment processes, older employees might be subject to performance coaching and disciplinary action because of poor performance. Make sure you're applying the same requirements and standards to all employees regardless of their ages.

If you document the performance of one employee, make sure you also document the performance of all employees who perform that particular job.

Eliminate the possibility of age discrimination by applying all expectations and repercussions equally.

Remove any indicator of the ages of the job candidates from application materials you share with managers and staff when you're hiring. You don't want your managers to subtly or unconsciously discriminate against candidates who are selected for interviews.

Discrimination Lawsuits

At a time when many jobs are becoming obsolete—think administrative assistants, receptionists, landline phone installers, postal service workers, and data entry operators—age is beginning to play a role in who gets the remaining available positions. Age discrimination lawsuits against employers are up over 18% in 2018. This is the fastest rising type of discrimination lawsuit overall.

Age discrimination is illegal at any phase of the employment relationship, including job postings, job descriptions, interviews, hiring, salaries, job assignments, merit increases, performance management and evaluation, training, disciplinary actions, promotions, demotions, benefits, employment termination, and layoffs.

Older employees are demonstrating a stronger inclination to sue in an employment environment that offers jobs that are primarily underpaid and service-type minimum wage occupations.

You can risk the potential of an age discrimination lawsuit even if your intentions and actions were above reproach.