Age Discrimination

HR Glossary for HR Professionals

Glossary of the most common HR terms and acronyms to assist professionals navigating the ever-growing and ever-changing world of HR terminology.

Age Discrimination

What Is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of an employee based on their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects applicants over 40 from discriminatory hiring practices. Age discrimination, however, can apply to more than just hiring practices.

One primary reason for age discrimination is ageism in the hiring approach—seeking younger employees to fill vacant roles, intentionally or not. This practice often occurs with the hope that younger talent can provide prolonged service and grow into more prominent roles within an organization. While hiring younger is not inherently wrong, doing so to the detriment of older candidates and employees could be discriminatory. 

Laying off older workers to make room for younger employees is another example of age discrimination. In addition, only offering raises and promotions to younger employees may also be considered discriminatory. 

Is Age Discrimination Common?

Age discrimination is not as rare as some may think. Even in modern business, large corporations are being sued over ageism allegations. 

While the EEOC recently reported that age discrimination rates had fallen as far as 39% between 2010 and 2020, a 2021 AARP survey found that as many as 78% of respondents–comprised of 1,322 working or recently retired Americans aged 40-65–claimed to have experienced or witnessed age discrimination in some capacity in the workplace. 

How Can Age Discrimination be Avoided?

The most important thing an employer can do is recognize the difference between discriminatory practices and more legitimate factors.

Legitimate factors can include hiring a particular candidate because of their qualities and skills, which directly relate to the job and its function. These factors might also include necessary skills and qualities that distinguish the candidate from other candidates.

One way to avoid age discrimination is to hire more senior employees. Focus on the positives of hiring these workers, such as spending less time training employees in basic business concepts and principles. Older employees can also offer younger employees leadership and mentorship, creating a more balanced team.

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