If your company has established top pay levels for each job classification, you probably end up giving some long-tenured (and, therefore older) employees smaller raises than less-experienced employees.
Those older workers may cry foul when they see their smaller (or nonexistent) raises. But they won’t be able to successfully claim age discrimination, as long as you can explain that the pay difference is due to your clearly documented wage schedules.
Just make sure you don’t have other barriers to promotions in higher-paid job categories that end up concentrating older workers on lower pay-scale rungs.
Recent case: James Hawthorne, who is over age 40, worked at a Florida hospital until he was fired for alleged sexual harassment. He claimed the charges were trumped up because he’d recently complained that his pay raises were lower than his co-workers.
When Hawthorne sued for age discrimination, the hospital told the court that his raises were lower because he’d reached the top of his pay category for that job. While employees who were lower on the scale might get bigger raises, Hawthorne received only a cost-of-living adjustment.
The court said the smaller raises were legitimate, given the employer’s rationale. There was no evidence the disparity had anything to do with age. Plus, the hospital was able to prove that the underlying reason for the firing was poor behavior, not complaints about his pay. (Hawthorne v. Baptist Hospital, No. 10-11406, 11th Cir., 2011)
Final note: Make sure all employees have a chance to advance into higher-paying positions, no matter their age. More older workers plan to continue working past what used to be considered retirement age. Don’t let that reality lead to age discrimination lawsuits.