Today's multigenerational workforce can present legal and management policy challenges to human resource professionals, including how to recruit, hire, manage and train age-diverse workers, and how to establish compensation packages or severance benefits that do not discriminate against workers based on age.
Have you looked at your employment policies lately? Are they age neutral? Do they provide benefits to one age group of employees over another? Have you reviewed your employment policies and practices to ensure that they comply with the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), as well as state and local age discrimination laws?
A Primer on State Laws on Age Discrimination
Many states have their own laws against age discrimination in employment, along with a state agency responsible for enforcing the law. Some employers, however, may be unaware that such laws are on the books. For many employers, navigating the federal and state laws, related regulations, and the working relationships between the agencies responsible for age discrimination can be a daunting experience.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) refers to state and local agencies as Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPA). They work collaboratively with the EEOC to avoid duplication of efforts (in the investigation and resolution of discrimination claims) while ensuring that older workers are protected against age discrimination under both federal and state laws. While the state laws are similar in intent to the ADEA, they may have some differences. For example some state laws may:
- Protect employees of different ages or prohibit age discrimination by employers with fewer than 20 employees.
- Protect workers in different age ranges, including people who are younger than 40.
- Have a shorter deadline for filing a charge with a state FEPA than the deadline for filing a charge with the federal EEOC (or eliminate the requirement for filing an administrative charge with the state FEPA prior to filing a lawsuit in court).
Here are some ways to help employers prevent age discrimination:
- Educate all staff about age discrimination laws.
- Have an explicit, overarching policy stating that age discrimination will not be tolerated. Communicate the policy to managers, supervisors, human resource personnel and any other staff involved in making decisions about employees' work conditions or benefits, or company policies of these issues.
- Regularly examine your organization's policies and practices in recruitment, hiring, evaluation, training, promotion and termination to check for age discrimination or negative stereotyping.
- Periodically conduct age audits to examine your company's age profile and pinpoint possible barriers to employing and promoting all employees regardless of age.
- Have performance or other job-related factors — not assumptions based on age or other legally protected characteristics — determine employee qualifications.
The information in this article is of a general nature and subject to change. It is not meant to serve as legal advice. Consult a licensed attorney for counsel on federal and state laws on age discrimination.