I just unfriended someone on Facebook who, in looking to hire an intern, specified that applicants needed to be "young" and "good with websites." The poster also said the job could lead to "indefinate" employment.
My first thought was that perhaps this poster should be looking for someone who knows how to spell. Actually, that's not true. My first thought was that every time someone advertises a job where "young" or its euphemistic counterpart "digital native" is part of the job description, I feel like I've been stabbed in the heart.
Last time I checked, age discrimination was still illegal. When you advertise that you are looking for someone "young," you are discriminating on the basis of age. It's that simple. And not only don't I want to be Facebook friends with you, I frankly would like to see the fist of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come crashing down on your business. You've heard of road rage? I suffer from age-discrimination rage.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful "to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training." In fact, the ADEA permits employers to actually favor older workers based on age, even when doing so adversely affects a younger worker. Heck, employers aren't even suppose to say they want a "recent college graduate" when they post a job.
But somehow, the tough talk of this language doesn't appear to be matched by any ferocity of action. The EEOC does not monitor companies to check the ages of its hires unless there's a discrimination claim filed, Justine S. Lisser, EEOC spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post.
While the number of age discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC has grown from 16,548 charges in fiscal year 2006 to 22,778 in fiscal year 2009, it still feel like such a paltry number when the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that long-term unemployment continues to plague those over 55. In 2014, 22.1 percent of the unemployed under age 25 had looked for work for 27 weeks or longer, compared with 44.6 percent of those 55 years and older.
I regularly hear from people over 40 who say they aren't getting a fair shake at jobs in today's market -- despite the fact that they've "age-sensitized" their resumes to leave off the year in which they graduated college and have updated their skills so that they now speak fluently in digital tongues. Time-after-time, the jobs still go to younger people. And my former Facebook friend and her desire for a "young" intern who is "good with websites?" She is probably oblivious to the law she is breaking or the harm she is causing by perpetuating a stereotype that there are jobs that only someone "young" can or will want to do.( Just an aside, but what on Earth does "good with websites" even mean?)
Where is the rush of prosecution against these biases? Whether they are borne of malice or ignorance matters little to me. They cause damage. You don't have to be young to be an intern; ask any woman who is returning to work after raising kids and she'd likely jump at the chance for some entry-level experience.
Age discrimination in the hiring process is hard to prove. It's one thing if a company fires all its workers who are over 50 -- then there's likely a case to be made for age discrimination. But if that same company simply doesn't ever hire anyone over 50? Well, that's a bark up a whole different tree.
It does, however, act on complaints. In 2013, Bay State Milling Company, a major flour and grain producer, agreed to pay $80,185 to settle an age discrimination suit filed by the EEOC on behalf of Gary Legore, a qualified applicant, who was rejected for a position at the milling company because of his age. Legore was 56 at the time and was told by the hiring manager that the company wanted to hire someone younger for the job -- which ultimately was given to a 22-year-old with less experience than Legore.
In a press release on the settlement: Regional Attorney Robert E. Weisberg of the EEOC's Miami District Office said, "Relying on prejudicial stereotypes based on an applicant's age is unlawful and emotionally harmful for the victim. This agency is charged with the responsibility of protecting the rights of all citizens, and age discrimination will not be tolerated."
EEOC Miami District Director Malcolm Medley added, "When a company is seeking someone to fill a vacant position, it is important that it looks to an individual's qualifications and ability to do the job and not to his or her age, which should never be a factor in a company's decision to hire."
That's right: Age should never be a factor in a company's decision to hire. There you have it.
Still, I wonder: With so many older people saying they bump up against age discrimination all the time, you'd think there would be some sort of advocacy movement started -- one that lights the fire under public awareness and makes it just as socially unacceptable to post on Facebook that you hope to hire someone "young" as it would be to say you are hoping to find a nice "white" or "straight" candidate.
In fact, how about we start one right here?