Protect your company against claims of ageism

September 20, 2019

As an employer, you understand the importance of treating your employees fairly. You would never give preference to a team member because of their gender or their race, because discrimination based on those characteristics is prohibited. But age discrimination is also prohibited – and may be more prevalent than you think. 

Pro Tip: 3 reasons why ageism goes underreported in workplace.

The 2019 Hiscox Ageism in the Workplace Study™ surveyed 400 workers aged 40 and over about their experiences with age discrimination. The survey found that ageism is a common – and growing – problem, with significant costs for businesses. But there are ways to protect your business and employees from the repercussions of age discrimination. 

The aging of the American workforce

Twenty-five percent of American workers will be age 55 and older in 2024,  per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and  discrimination based on age is on the rise. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines age discrimination as treating an applicant or employee less favorably because they are age 40 or older, and the practice is forbidden by law. But the problem continues to grow. There were 18,276 cases of age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC in 2017 – double the number filed in 1990. 

Besides being inherently unfair and a drag on morale, ageism can be expensive for employers. Employers paid $810.4 million to settle age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC between 2010 and 2018, not including the costs of litigation. There are also indirect costs associated with the lost value associated with experienced workers and decreased employee morale. 

Three steps to combating ageism in your company

How can employers protect themselves and their employees from age discrimination? Try this three-step process.

Prevent ageism from happening in the first place by educating your employees. Some people may not even realize they’re discriminating when, for example, they steer technology-centric projects toward younger staff. By providing your team with examples of what ageism looks like, you may prevent it from happening and also help witnesses recognize it if it does occur. 

Our survey found that 62% of respondents hadn’t received age discrimination training of any kind in the previous 12 months. Yet educated employees can serve as a kind of 'early warning system' on ageism in the workplace by alerting management of potential bias early on. 

In addition to providing training, companies should demonstrate a culture of inclusion that starts at the top. Any violation of anti-discrimination policies should be addressed swiftly and decisively. 

Detect ageism early, before it becomes an issue. Watch for signs that older workers are being excluded from projects or teams, or that they’re being harassed. Be sure workers of all ages are appropriately represented in hiring, promotions, and layoffs. 

Conducting anonymous employee surveys is a good way to find out if older employees feel they are being overlooked, or if instances of ageism are being observed but not reported. 

Mitigate the effect of ageism if it happens. Address any reports – or even rumors – by conducting an immediate, thorough investigation. Interviews with the parties involved and any witnesses should be conducted in conjunction with HR. Consult with corporate counsel if you have concerns about interviewing appropriately. 

Maintaining the appropriate level of liability insurance will protect your company and management against the financial impact of an age discrimination claim. 

Taking steps to prevent ageism in the workplace is important for your employees and your company. Learn more about age discrimination in the 2019 Hiscox Ageism in the Workplace study