Age discrimination against younger employees

It isn’t just about generational characteristics

Age discrimination against younger employees
Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

In last week’s post, I discussed how age discrimination for some people could begin at a much earlier age than previously thought. According to one study, those in their mid-40s and older who find themselves out of work may have a much more difficult time securing suitable employment than younger workers.

However, that only refers to age discrimination for those who are perceived as being too old. The reality is that age discrimination also affects much younger workers, albeit in different ways. As I mentioned in a previous post back in 2012, a study in the United Kingdom found that age discrimination tends to impact both the youngest and oldest members of the workforce.

Human rights legislation

Unlike in the United States, where the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only prohibits discrimination against those over 40 (although some states also have legislation protecting workers under 40), Canadian human rights legislation across the country generally prohibits age discrimination against anyone over 18 or 19 (or even younger in some jurisdictions).

Although this type of discrimination is prohibited by law, age discrimination is notoriously difficult to prove — particularly at the pre-employment stage. It can be nearly impossible to prove someone wasn’t called for an interview because of her age.

While age and experience, for example, go hand-in-hand, employers can point to characteristics beyond age impacting their decision whether or not to call an applicant in for an interview. The lack of experience hurdle is a big one for younger workers to overcome, but employers sometimes also refuse to hire younger people because of their perceived lack of professionalism, salary history or some other characteristic closely related to age.

Negative stereotypes and generational characteristics

It is also becoming fashionable in some circles to believe in certain stereotypes about millennials and tar all younger workers with the same brush. According to those stereotypes, today’s younger workers are lazy, entitled, spoiled, immature, unprofessional and lacking in communication skills.

While people often try to justify these stereotypes as being based on generational cohort as opposed to age, that basically amounts to the same thing. The fact is millennials are young workers right now (although some are now in their 30s and aren’t all that young anymore), and many of the same things were said about generation X about 15 or 20 years ago.

While the conditions that were prevalent when we came of age definitely shaped who we are as individuals, there are more differences within generational groups than between them. I also believe much of the hype surrounding the different generations in the workforce (particularly millennials) is just another example of the timeless phenomenon of older folks thinking the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket. Somehow, the younger generation always ends up doing alright in the end.

While I am not saying everyone is against millennials (many organizations actually go out of their way to attract, hire, retain and promote workers belonging to this cohort), more than a handful of hiring managers and even some employers in general believe the negative stereotypes and tend not to hire millennials as a result. That’s a real problem given the challenges faced by younger workers relating to unemployment and underemployment.

It is hardly surprising so many young people these days are having such a difficult time launching their lives and careers and end up moving back in with their parents. When so-called entry level jobs require five years of experience and so many young people are stuck in dead end jobs or a string of unpaid internships, it’s no wonder we aren’t seeing millennials enjoy the trappings of success and adulthood in their 20s like we did with previous generations.

Employers can help by being realistic in requirements for entry level roles, not expecting recent graduates to have skills that could only have been acquired on the job, being willing to provide meaningful training and development opportunities and refusing to discriminate against individuals based on age. For example, does a job posting asking for a minimum of 10 years of experience really require someone that senior?

I also believe employers should be more tolerant of the style and mannerisms of young people and realize some of those things are based on current trends and will change as younger workers learn more about organizational rules, norms and values and become better acquainted with workplace etiquette.

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