Age discrimination: Assumptions that lead to trouble

by on June 29, 2011 · 2 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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If you’re a manager and you haven’t already seen a situation like the one I’m about to describe, you will be sooner or later, and you’ll find yourself in a real quandary:

You’ve got an older employee named Joe on your team. It’s your job to maximize productivity. Your boss expects you to hire the very best people and push them hard to perform. But Joe’s performance has fallen.

It seems clear to you that Joe’s age is preventing him from meeting the demands of his job. For the good of the company, and for Joe, you want to transfer him to a lower-paying job he can handle. But is it legal to do so?

Probably not. Based on the limited information provided, it’s impossible to be sure. But there was one sentence in the above description that should have tipped you off – indeed, should have screamed at you – that this is a decision fraught with peril. That sentence is, “It seems clear to you that Joe’s age is preventing him from meeting the demands of his job.”

Seems clear?

If a case like this came to court, it would likely turn on the assumptions made by the manager. It may be an objective fact that Joe’s performance fell. But it’s a huge and dangerous leap for a manager to assume that it fell because of his age. That may be true, but there could be all sorts of other explanations.

As more and more baby boomers hit their 60s you’re going to see situations like the one I just described. And every one of them is a potentially disastrous age discrimination lawsuit against your company.

photo credit: lsgcp

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2 Comments on This Post

  1. Bruce
    June 30, 2011 - 6:23 pm

    We are so conditioned to think “older” when we see the term Age Discrimination in an article, title of a blog, etc. Do the same risks exist when you are talking about Gen Y.  Some reports have Gen Y making up over 50% of the workforce by 2018. Are HR professional being trained to advise management on this potential reverse age discrimination scenario?

  2. Bruce
    June 30, 2011 - 6:23 pm

    We are so conditioned to think “older” when we see the term Age Discrimination in an article, title of a blog, etc. Do the same risks exist when you are talking about Gen Y.  Some reports have Gen Y making up over 50% of the workforce by 2018. Are HR professional being trained to advise management on this potential reverse age discrimination scenario?

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