Join Our “Young” Team? Hello, Age Discrimination

Maybe it’s because I’m old (legally in the United States, as I’m over 40), but “young” doesn’t seem like a good word to use to describe your team. And yet, a Resume writing company uses it. (Thanks to a reader for taking a screenshot and sending this to me.)

See it? This line: “Our downtown Toronto office offers an open, collaborative, and relaxed environment where our young, positive, and hard-working team strive toward a common goal of empowering clients in their job search.”

Now, it does not say that they will only hire young people. but it’s definitely sending out a message that if you’re old, don’t bother applying–you won’t be a good cultural fit.

I don’t know much about Canadian employment law, but I assumed age discrimination is illegal there, and I’m right. And, in fact, it’s more restrictive than the United States. The US federal age discrimination law only protects people over 40, but it looks like Canadian (or at least Ontario) protects everyone over 18 (and over 16 in housing). The examples they give of discriminatory statements are:

  • “Are you sure you can handle this job? It takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and we are looking for someone with career potential.”
  • “You don’t need this training program. At your age, what would the benefit be?”
  • “We’re looking for a more mature candidate to handle this job”
  • “Students are noisy and unreliable tenants.”

None of these come out and say we won’t hire if you if you’re too old. Neither does the job posting, but definitely, that statement will turn away more mature candidates.

Make sure you write your job descriptions to be inclusive. Let someone come in for the interview and decide for themselves if they don’t want to work with a bunch of youngsters.

And get off my lawn.

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16 thoughts on “Join Our “Young” Team? Hello, Age Discrimination

  1. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but — in addition to the connotation that older people shouldn’t apply — referring to ones staff as “young” also suggests entry level pay, since the “fair compensation” section only mentions benefits, bonuses, company events and “lunches, snacks and coffee.”

    1. Yeah, although to be fair, depending on the snacks, that may attract someone like me. 🙂

      1. LOL me too.

        Although “lunches and snacks” are also code for “WE provide something to eat because you will practically live at the office, but hey, you’re young so you don’t have any other responsibilities! Right?”

        1. Exactly. If you are bragging that I can drop my dry cleaning off at the office and that you serve free suppers, I know what you really mean is that you want me there until midnight every day.

          No thanks.

  2. This is an overt display of a preference for youth. Most companies’ careers websites are full of pictures of young people. They usually take care nowadays to show people of different races and genders, and sometimes even show people who are not conventionally attractive. But they are ALL young.

    Seriously – look at the pictures on the career pages of any major company, If you can spot someone over 40 who’s not the CEO, I’d be shocked.

  3. I was downsized at 50 and ended up applying for new jobs and interviewing. In one panel interview with a group of younger men I was asked bluntly, “Why aren’t you retired?” (To which I answered, “At my age? I’m planning to work 12-15 more years.”) They finished the interview saying, “Your next session is with the boss in his office three floors up. Would you prefer the elevator or the stairs?” I suspected a test so I said, “Stairs would be fine.” They all looked at each other and one said sheepishly, “I think we’d rather take the elevator.” I suspect that they, like the company you mention, had no idea that they were prejudiced much less that they were dead obvious about it.

  4. To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment: Shouldn’t companies be up-front with their culture in their job descriptions? Yes, the interview will say a lot–but if I’m able to tell from the description that it’s a bad fit I can save myself and the interview team a lot of time and effort by simply not applying. Even in the best situation–where both the company and I are doing things that are 100% appropriate and our expectations are 100% in line with the norms of our professions–the culture could be a bad fit. I’m a father, and I try to spend as much time with my kids as I can. If the company culture is one where everyone hangs out on weekends together it’s going to interfere with my kid’s activities and won’t be a great fit. Conversely I like to get to know my coworkers, and an environment where everyone is silent except to ask business-related questions (I’ve worked with such teams) isn’t going to work for me either. Neither company culture is wrong, or even bad–it’s just a bad fit for me.

    How should a company balance being open about their company culture (which necessarily isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea) vs being inclusive?

    1. Companies should be open about their culture.

      They should also be very careful to make certain their culture isn’t illegal.

      Companies don’t always do what they should.

      1. You’re not wrong, but that doesn’t tell us much. The trick is how to be open about your culture without doing something that can be seen as illegal (it’s not the reality of breaking the law that’s the issue, it’s the perception thereof). It’s a much finer line than most people think.

        1. Goober is absolutely right, and that tells us a lot.

          James, you are confusing valid culture differentiation (donut shop is different from an environmental non-profit is different from a machine tool retailer) with intentional illegal discrimination (younger people are preferred to older). Not a fine line, at all.

          1. That’s like a video game saying it has a morality system, but makes all the choices “Feed this orphan or burn puppies with acid”. If you select the most egregious examples you can make the line seem very broad indeed.

            Let’s take environmental. I’ve worked in the field for my entire adult life. It requires a certain amount of upper body strength (lugging 5 gallon buckets of listed hazardous waste without spilling them isn’t easy). It’s incredibly easy to write that in such a way as to only get male applicants. It’s also easy to write that in such a way as to only get young applicants–it’s one of those jobs where you don’t keep doing it into your 40s most of the time. How do you write that job description without opening yourself to age/sex discrimination charges?

            Please note that I didn’t say “…without intentional illegal discrimination”. Another aspect of this question that needs to be addressed is the fact that what is intended, what is achieved, and what is perceived are often at odds. This is implicitly acknowledged in our definition of hostile work environment. So it’s not just that you can’t intend discrimination–other people can’t perceive it as well. Makes that line a bit harder to find, especially in today’s climate.

  5. Welcome to the world of the enlighted youth, who are so full of ideas, but fail to see the consequences of actually doing the actions of those ideas. What is so funny about most of their ideas, is that they are just a new version of an old idea, which us old-timers would recognize as a non-starter idea from experience. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the same wrong idea brought forth by a dubious gullible young person who thinks its an original idea. As for discriminating by age, they are following the sheep philosophy that one stops being enlightened when they reach 30 until they become over the age of being accepted as young. Some of them will grow up and realize their mistakes of limiting their viewpoints and some will blame everyone else for their failures.

  6. I agree the language is not inclusive, but wonder if they’d have a leg to stand on by arguing that they mean young as in newly assembled vs. young in age, e.g., they’ve only had a group colocated there for a few years compared to their decades old headquarters in another city. Still, the word choice betrays inexperience, so a generous interpretation probably doesn’t change much…

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