The potential opportunities and pitfalls in hiring older workers

Low unemployment has benefitted older workers, and employers are actively recruiting them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers age 65 and older constitute the fastest growing segment of the workforce. By 2024, labor participation by workers 65 and older is expected to grow 6.4%.

An older workforce requires paying careful attention to age discrimination and disability accommodation issues.

THE LAW The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 bars discrimination against employees 40 years of age or older. During the recession, age discrimination charges filed with the EEOC spiked to 24,582 in 2008. Since then, the numbers have steadily fallen, down to 18,376 in 2017.

Older workers are more likely than younger workers to need accommodation for disabilities. ADA complaints rose during the recession, but unlike ADEA claims, they have continued to rise, hitting an all-time high of 28,073 in 2016.

States have age discrimination laws as well. Some bar discrimination against young workers as well as old.

Interview Bootcamp D

WHAT’S NEW Increased life expectancy coupled with a lack of retirement savings have pushed many older workers back into the job market. Those workers may need to learn new skills.

Some employers are responding to the challenge by offering to pay for classes for older workers that allow them to update their skills. It’s a far cry from the depths of the recession when unemployed workers were taking unpaid internships just to keep their skills honed.

Goldman Sachs has launched a “re­turn­ship program,” where former employees who have been out of the workforce for at least two years are eligible for a 10-week training and mentorship program to get them up to speed.

Employers in chilly climates, such as Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, are recruiting snowbirds to work during the warm weather. Other firms provide flexible telecommuting arrangements and exercise programs targeting older workers.

Note: The influx of older workers is affecting employer-sponsored benefits, too. Because older workers have less time to accumulate retirement savings, some employers, such as Massachusetts-based Tufts Health plan, offer a 3% bonus match on top of the company’s 4% to employees who contribute 6% or more of their income to the company’s 401(k) program.

Other firms have begun providing provide flexible telecommuting arrangements and exercise programs that target older workers.

HOW TO COMPLY Workplaces where hiring older workers is a new phenomenon are most at risk for violating age discrimination laws. There are two mistakes employers frequently make:

  • Tolerating managers and co-workers who make snide remarks about an employee’s age
  • Letting supervisors attempt to force an older worker to retire by creating a hostile work environment based on age.

To the extent that hiring older workers constitutes a cultural change, employers have to prepare current management. Just as women who have spoken up in the #MeToo movement have shone the light on demeaning behavior by management, the record is littered with older workers experiencing the same type of behavior.

Evaluating mature workers

Performance management systems must account for an aging workforce. Management must be sensitive to those challenges, particularly when it comes to training or retraining older workers to handle new job responsibilities.

One critical step: Before launching any training effort, it’s crucial to outline how older workers will be evaluated.

Managers need to understand that retraining is a process. While the goal is to bring the older worker up to speed, expecting too much too early in the development process would be unfair and could lead to charges that the system is designed to discriminate against older workers.

Performance assessments should not focus merely on the areas where the employee needs improvement, but also on the skills the mature worker brings to the job.

Accommodation issues

Older workers are more likely to have health conditions that require accommodation under the ADA.

Employers must remember that they cannot discriminate against a worker because he or she needs an accommodation. Organizations that are looking to hire older workers should make sure their ADA accommodation infrastructure is in good shape.

Do hiring personnel understand how to handle accommodation requests during the hiring process? Do managers know how to recognize and address accommodation requests from employees? Is there a department designated to handle accommodation requests? Is that department up-to-date on existing assistive technology?

Some accommodations may not be ADA-related. Employers that allow telecommuting should do so on a nondiscriminatory basis. Normally, job duties drive telecommuting options. Offering telecommuting to some employees in a particular position and not others could be discriminatory. Telecommuting policies should be as uniform as possible.

Advice: Consult your attorney to review your recruiting initiatives that target older workers, as well as plans for integrating them into your overall workforce.