Age Discrimination Highlighted in Boston Business Journal

Today, the Boston Business Journal featured an interesting article discussing age discrimination in the workplace. Entitled (ironically), Age does have its advantages in today’s job market, the article’s author, Matthew Youngquist, writes:

Whether overt or covert, age-related discrimination is a fact of life in the modern hiring process and a phenomenon beyond any plausible denial.

When it comes to avoiding liability, employers are much more sophisticated than they were decades ago. Direct evidence of discrimination these days is rare. Generally speaking, age discrimination cases are often built through circumstantial evidence. Let’s take downsizing for instance. Company A decides it needs to cut a percentage of its workforce due to the downturn in the economy. 40% of Company A’s workforce is 40 years old or older. During its reduction in force (RIF), 75% of those employees terminated by Company A happen to be 40 years old or older. This certainly raises an inference of age discrimination based on circumstantial evidence. The employer, of course, can always offer legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the disproportionate number of older workers affected by the RIF.

Youngquist’s article, however, indicates that older workers may have trouble just getting their foot in the door, let alone surviving a RIF:

Not only will you almost never see a published job listing asking for more than seven to 10 years of experience, but in recent years, I’ve heard employers and recruiters talk about their desire to locate “early-career professionals” or “candidates with a long runway” — both euphemisms I took to mean “older workers need not apply.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts the number workers over 55 years old growing at an annual rate of 4% — about four times quicker than the labor force as a whole. It doesn’t take an MBA to know that evaluating and rewarding employees based on their productivity, instead of their age, makes good business sense. Time will tell how Corporate America reacts to its aging workforce.