Addressing Age Discrimination In The Workplace: Legal Obligations And Age-Inclusive Practices

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Discrimination in the workplace is not just contrary to employment laws, but it’s also damaging to your business. One of the often underexplored forms of bias is that of age discrimination. Older workers tend to experience various forms of overt and more subtle prejudice that can make them feel unwelcome and prevent them from gaining employment, among other outcomes.

A lot of this comes down to a lack of visibility of these issues and the true value that older workers have to offer. Importantly, workers over the age of 65 are a growing demographic, meaning that for businesses to enjoy their true potential as staff members, there needs to be a focus on making sure older workers are fairly treated. Indeed, when you go beyond simply minimizing discrimination to actively empowering older workers, there’s a chance for all stakeholders to benefit.

Let’s explore age discrimination in the workplace a little further, alongside some actions you can implement to create a more inclusive environment.

What Are Your Legal Obligations?

It’s unlikely ever to be your intention to purposely discriminate against workers due to age. Nevertheless, a lot of problems come from a lack of understanding about what constitutes discriminatory practices. It’s worth starting by taking a moment to examine what is legally considered discrimination in this area and what a business’ obligations are in relation to older workers.

Some of the key factors outlined in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) include:

  • Age discrimination applies to actions taken in relation to those aged 40 or older.
  • The act prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment. This includes, but isn’t limited to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, and benefits.
  • There are various prohibited behaviors that can constitute age discrimination or harassment. These include derogatory remarks about a person’s age, creating a hostile work environment for older workers, and adverse employment decisions (like hiring and firing) based largely on age. It also forbids businesses from making policies or practices that apply to all workers but have a negative impact on applicants or employees aged 40 or older.

As with a lot of legislation, the definitions and the scope of impact is relatively limited. Indeed, the aim when minimizing age discrimination in the workplace shouldn’t simply be to avoid legal action, but to ensure a space for all employees to thrive. Therefore, it’s important to go beyond the requirements of the legislation and commit to making your hiring, operations, and culture not just non-discriminatory, but actively inclusive. This avoids negative legal outcomes and creates a more welcoming business culture.

Inclusivity Through Training

One of the most powerful tools you have in addressing age discrimination is training. By leveraging education in various ways, you can create a more inclusive workplace. Importantly, everybody involved can feel more confident and capable when interacting in the company.

There are various types of training you can focus on, but you should include the following.

Refreshing skills

One of the challenges some, but not all, older workers face is that business practices, technologies, and attitudes can change rapidly. This could lead to inadvertent discrimination to the perception that these workers have outdated skills. In some cases, aging adults may feel alienated in their workplaces.

Providing regular refresher training to all workers can help mitigate all of these issues. It helps you to fill skills gaps, enhances employees’ confidence, and shows you’re committed to their growth regardless of age. It’s important to start by getting a good understanding of your older workers’ needs, not just in terms of the skills to refresh, but also how best to support their learning.

Inclusivity training

Another important area of focus is to provide training that boosts inclusivity. It may not always be clear to some employees that their behavior is discriminatory or how their actions impact other workers. Don’t just focus on the big and obvious examples of discrimination here.

 Employees need to also understand that microaggressions — such as seemingly mild jokes about age or negative stereotypes — can put significant amounts of stress on their older colleagues. Part of this training should also include guidance on what workers should do if they spot examples of age discrimination at work.

Creating an Age-Positive Environment

Addressing age discrimination shouldn’t just be about creating a set of tactics and rules that prevent abusive actions. Rather, businesses need to aim for age inclusivity to be a more integrated aspect of the company culture. Taking steps to make your workplace a more age-positive space can help workers feel more supported in your business and enable younger workers to see their older colleagues as valuable and vital contributors.

This begins by making inclusive leadership strategies part of your day-to-day actions, including in the digital workplace. Make it clear to all employees that you’re there to support them and ensure that they feel safe discussing even delicate matters with you. You can also encourage input from different members of your team; this is especially important in digital workplaces where there are various communication channels that can be used. You need to avoid giving the impression that the younger workers’ opinions are more valid or valued. Importantly, keep educating yourself about the impact of age discrimination by actively listening to your older workers and seeking their insights.

Another important component of creating an age-positive environment is to ensure age is part of your efforts to diversify your organization. Many businesses focus on racial, gender, and socioeconomic groups — which are vital, of course. Yet, making age diversity a target also enables you to gain older workers with invaluable experiences at all levels of leadership. Keep in mind that many of these individuals also have valuable experiences and knowledge that can be helpful to your business and your various departments. As a result, they can influence a more positive environment throughout your company.


Age discrimination is a negative influence on all stakeholders. It’s important to implement practices that prevent damage and empower older workers to thrive. Your efforts here can also help to address other forms of discrimination in your workplace, as the aim is not simply to help people aged 40 or over, but to provide a welcoming space for everyone.

Featured photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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