Although HR professionals are not always aware of discriminatory comments or decisions made by managers or even senior management, there are warning signs.
Maybe one manager demonstrates a pattern of only promoting young workers. Another may tell older employees, “Once you get past 60, you should retire.” Even certain words or phrases routinely used by management like, “We want a fresh or young approach” can create the perception of ageism, says Edson McClellan, partner and chair of the labor and employment department at Rutan & Tucker who provided his insights to HR Executive for this story.
One way HR can discover if ageism exists in the workplace is by examining employee demographics. Who’s been fired or laid off? If concerned about a department, he suggests getting a breakdown of employee ages. What’s the average age? How many workers are below and above that age? Is there a pattern of pushing people out the door once they hit a certain age?
But asking what year job candidates graduated from school should be taboo.
“It’s not a problem if one recruiter does it but if everybody else asks the same question, then it raises the question why?” McClellan says. “Who was asking and why? Was it coming from above?”
In the Keer America Corp. lawsuit, the EEOC complaint says a 47-year-old employee worked at the company for roughly two weeks when the plant manager saw the employee’s driver’s license and learned of his age. The plant manager asked HR to rescind the job offer. HR refused, so the plant manager fired the employee.
McClellan believes the plaintiff in the Keer America suit will have an uphill battle proving ageism. Most age discrimination cases involve employees over the age of 60. He says it’s uncommon for any 47-year-old to be the victim of age discrimination since most of the time, that employee has an older boss.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if [Keer] has another explanation,” McClellan says, adding that roughly half of his age discrimination cases are also attached to disability discrimination cases. “Make sure that you have your ducks in a row and the reason for termination is properly documented ahead of time.”
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