Table of Contents
Age discrimination can have a significant damaging impact on the working setting of small and corporate businesses. Moreover, it actually damages positive and effective working relations and can provoke business to incur legal liability. Ageism can appear in different forms, including refusal to hire older employees, direct/indirect termination, and treatment of older workers in a different manner than younger employees. The current paper identifies ethical issue surrounding ageism in a workplace, demonstrates how the issue is addressed on a global scale, analyzes the issue through ethical theories and stakeholder analysis and provides possible solutions to the problem.
Ethical Dilemma: Age Discrimination
The facts demonstrate that the term ‘age discrimination’ is broadly utilized across European Union, and is acknowledged as legal concept in other countries, including the U.S., Canada and Australia (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). Age discrimination is an ethical issue concerned with employers eliminating or limiting individual freedom to exercise right to work (Bal et al. 2011). Despite the fact that discrimination can concern employees of different ages, older workers usually experience it the most. For instance, discrimination during the recruitment process begins with 40 year-olds; while early elimination and removal from work negatively impacts people aged 55 and older (Bal, Reiss, Rudolph & Baltes 2011). The issue mainly affects employees below the official retirement age (65 years old in the majority of EU countries), incorporating workers who are past retirement age (Bal et al. 2011).
According to Carroll and Buchholtz (2015), there are two major types of discrimination, such as direct and indirect discrimination. The first type encompasses measures oriented at older workers grounded merely on age, excluding all other factors, such as skills or health (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). The above-mentioned measures utilize particular age restriction to expel older workers from, for instance, employment and training organizations, or from a possibility to apply for a specific position (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). On the contrary, James, et al. (2013) state that indirect discrimination encompasses measures, which cannot be regarded directly as age-oriented, but that have an incommensurable negative affect on older workers comparing to younger employees. This indirect or hidden discrimination typically has prevailing negative affect on older workers regarding employment (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015).
Aga Discrimination: Worldwide Perspective
It is also important to understand that ethical issues that pertain to age discrimination are similar in different countries around the globe. Brownell and Kelly (2013) state that there is evident stable and prevailing discrimination against older workers in both public and private sectors in the UK. Despite the fact that the UK appears to have a well-established legislation on gender and race discrimination, it still lags behind such countries as the U.S., Canada, Spain, and France with regard to laws forbidding age discrimination (Brownell & Kelly 2013). North and Fisk (2013) demonstrate that proponents of equal opportunities legislation argue that it is important to highlight the age discriminations issue, especially indirect discrimination, to ensure that affected employees are reimbursed. On the contrary, opponents prefer voluntary self-control, because legislation can do little to alter attitudes regarding older employees and at the same time pose an additional administrative burden on employers (North & Fisk 2013). According to Paluck and Green (2009), many UK employers argue that legislation is unnecessary, since labor and demographic market alterations oblige them to revise all negative attitudes towards older workers, as an increasing number of employees over 50s demonstrate a tendency to take early retirement. Nevertheless, the scope to which such early retirements appear to be voluntary is open to question, due to the suggestions that employers are particulary targeting older workers for redundancy. The history of the UK vividly demonstrates that this ethical issue dates back to conservative governments that opposed legislation prohibiting age discrimination. Moreover, at the same time several private members’ bills on the problem failed in winning the support of the House of Commons (Bal et al. 2011). The UK Government appeared to resist European legislation on age discrimination. Nevertheless, according to Plant and Devine (2009), the UK demonstrates a tendency to focus specifically on reforms of broader regulatory structures influencing old-age employment, for example, elevating the statutory retirement age in accordance with the Pension Act of 2007 and reassessing the conditions to obtain inability advantage in 2008. In addition, in 2011, the government eliminated the default retirement age (North & Fisk 2013). Nevertheless, Malinen and Johnston (2013) demonstrate that age discrimination is still prevalent today, as more than 1,400 UK managers have rated team members aged 50 and older much lower than younger employees with regard to their desire to learn, evolve and progress. Thus, the managers rated employees over 50 years old at 46 percent according to the above-mentioned attributes, in contrast to generation X that scored 67 percent and Millennials with 79 percent (Malinen & Johnston 2013). These figures demonstrate the issue of ageism in organizations, since highly talented and skilled personnel appear to have fewer possibilities to progress only because they reach as certain age.
The analysis of Eastern World reveals that one of the main principles of traditional Asian culture is respect for elders (Cheung, Wu & Yeung 2016). Nevertheless, regarding organizational relationships, age discrimination appears to be a long-scorned problem in both public and private sectors. Cheung, Wu and Yeung (2016) state that despite the fact that the issue has been addressed in 1995 during the Governor’s employment summit, which encompassed representatives from government, unions, and employers, it still appears to be neglected in the region. It provided union leaders with a possibility to reveal cases of employers recruiting younger applicants and reducing the number of older workers, which urged the government to take actions in protecting older employees fired from their position because of economic reorganization. North and Fisk (2013) illustrate that due to the prevailing laissez-faire approach to economics, Asian region appears to be slower than the UK and the EU in developing legislation on equal opportunities. Current situation demonstrates that legislators, particularly those who represent an employer perspective, believe that any legislation regarding equal opportunities accounts for a needless intervention with management discretion in selection and recruitment processes (Cheung, Wu & Yeung 2016). Moreover, there is a belief that this type of legislation might stimulate age discrimination in recruitment. For example, the Employment Ordinance, which presupposes that employers are forced to defray excessive rates for long service to employees who are older than 45 in a case they are fired, further discourages employers from employing older workers (North & Fisk 2013). Nevertheless, the region currently demonstrates that at least some human resource managers are aware of the significance of equipping equal employment opportunities (Cheung, Wu & Yeung 2016).
On the contrary, in the EU, despite the fact that all members demonstrate significantly increased number of workers over 50, age equality is seriously and firmly secured by European laws and policies. Ng and Feldman (2013) estimated that half of all workers appear to be over 40. Nevertheless, the EU also tends towards an early exit of older employees. However, numerous employees leave work after 50, partaking in the labor market lowers abruptly after the age of 55 in several countries, and merely a half of employees aged from 55 to 59 and a quarter of workers between 60 and 64 years old remain economically active (Bal et al. 2011). A comprehensive international aging agenda and plan of action appear to be encompassed in the International Plan of Action and Political Declaration (North & Fisk 2013). This international aging agenda emphasizes the importance of older people and their role in society as well as workplace (North & Fisk 2013).
Discrimination against Age in Context
Miss V. Koh is a 52 years old service sales manager in Sainsbury who has been working for 22 years in the company (TUC 2014). A new manager counsels an employee on her attendance, despite the fact that she does not demonstrate a tendency to be late for work. In addition, new manager makes numerous discriminatory comments concerning her age, continuously finds minor issues in her work and relates them to Koh being old, suggesting that as she has a few years left until retirement, she should think about working on something less accountable, stressful and challenging (TUC 2014). The company does not provide her with any educational or training courses and starts to complain about the fact that she requires more time than other employees to perform her functions even, even though she dedicates her leisure time to competing working tasks. In addition, many employees in her department continuously voice such phrases as ‘out of touch’ and ‘past it’ following the new manager’s example (TUC 2014). Despite the employee is highly talented and skilled, she feels marginalized and upset, due to unlawful age discrimination from different stakeholders.
The key stakeholders are the employee (Miss Koh), employer, co-workers, top management, supervisors, community, and government. One of the most significant features of employer, besides virtue ethics (including fairness and trustworthiness), is responsibility for employee in accordance with societal and individual aspects (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). There are two discrepant views on the role of any business. The first one concerns ‘profit maximization’, which states that the mere role of the business is profit enlargement within the law, while the second view, ‘stakeholder obligation’, claims that social accountability of the business is to manage a company according to the interests of all its stakeholders (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). The employer in current context adopted ‘profit maximization’ goal, desiring to terminate employee legally based on her deteriorated performance to maximize profit of the business regardless of Koh’s interests. In fact, it is important to understand that business has high social accountability for stakeholders in society as a whole (Posthuma & Campion 2009). The employer does not provide any trainings for the employee to nurture her skills or talent. Moreover, manager does not talk and educate employees on age diversity, and thus does not engage all employees in impeding age discrimination prevailing in the company under analysis (Taylor et al. 2012). The employer is flexible and inclusive and does not demonstrate a tendency to encourage older employees to gain new knowledge, experience and skills (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). On the contrary, employees as stakeholders should adhere to ethical codes and policies regarding age discrimination, since they vividly treated Koh less favorably due to her age. In fact, current company lacks an explicit, over-arching policy, which states that discrimination is not tolerated in the company (Van Dalen, Henkens & Schippers 2010). Employers are accountable for communicating such policy to their managers, supervisors, human resources personnel, etc., who are incorporated in decision-making process regarding work advantages and conditions as well as policies on this ethical dilemma (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). Finally, the analysis of the government as a stakeholder showed that it does not provide choice for individuals of different ages and does not raise awareness regarding the issues and does not promote good ethical practice (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015).
Firstly, in utilitarianism an action is ethical if it produces happiness to the greatest number of people and promotes the least amount of harm considering equally the interests of all affected (Barnes, Smeaton & Taylor 2009). Thus, if the manager decides to fire the employee, it will harm Koh since she is eager to continue to work. Moreover, Koh will probably not be capable of finding a new similar job due to her age despite being a highly talented and skilled professional. It is profitable for the business to take such measures regarding Koh if she is not capable of achieving necessary outcomes. The fact that the employee receives consistently positive year-end reviews and that she utilizes leisure time to catch up with work assignments after realizing her inability to cope with some tasks within the working hours demonstrate that Koh is responsible and capable of achieving necessary outcomes for the business. In addition, her tardiness combined with low speed might have increased the workloads of other employees if she did not compensate it on her own. Thus, the employer should define the core reason behind the decision to fire Koh. Employee’s termination does not appear to be fair. Moreover, it is highly unethical to share information about somebody’s termination prior to discussing it with the employee in question. Furthermore, the organization does not take into account the fact that some customers (35 percent according to the UK statistics) prefer to get slower and more relaxed service, which makes them feel as if they are chatting with their old friend at home (Carroll & Buchholtz 2015). Therefore, the company neglects the desires of a large share of their customers, for who Koh appears as suitable. Thus, the company does not recognize the good aspects of Koh’s age, including maturity and dependability, and instead of taking advantage of these positive traits as well as her talent and highly professional skills, applies indirect age discrimination. In addition, company ignores discriminative behavior among its employees, which obviously negatively affects older workers and alters their performance and results.
In addition, according to Kantian moral theory an action is ethical if it demonstrates respect for rational humanity in accordance with ‘universal law’ and ‘treat people as ends’ criteria (James, McKechnie & Swanberg 2011). Therefore, ‘terminating older employee slowing down’ is not ethical with regard to the universal law, due to the fact that it actually contradicts the principle of Human Rights Act (Kunze, Boehm & Bruch 2013). Despite the fact that Kantian moral theory might support some universal codes of conduct, code of any business or organization must demonstrate respect for people’s intrinsic value treating them as ends in themselves (Malinen & Johnston 2013). Therefore, Koh’s intrinsic value, including maturity and life/professional experience should be respected. Consequently, prior to adopting the termination option, the employer is supposed to consider the problem from ethical point of view. For instance, management can discuss with the employee the possibility of utilizing alternatives to realizing her intrinsic value, for example, alternating her employment contract from hourly wage to commission payment. This will provide the employee with a possibility to freely consent to the new employment contract or to refuse it and leave the employer. This alternative obviously does not provoke the rise of any ethical issues because the employer respects Koh as a rationally autonomous individual who has a right to make her own choice.
Provision of Initial Resolution of the Ethical Dilemma
Firstly, there is a need to provide and secure stable employment for older people (Paluck & Green 2009). The nation is aging, but there are many older people, who are in good health condition, have perfect talent, skills, and professional practice, and, who want to continue working and sharing their life experience with younger people. The previously described case demonstrates that the employer should assist employee in overcoming some work difficulties in a more ethical manner in order to realize corporative social responsibility. Secondly, the company should adopt policies and codes, which enhance self-esteem of aged people, create a positive and friendly working climate and promote respect for aged people in society (Plant & Devine 2009). Employment appears to be one of the effective ways to enhance self-esteem, dignity, and self-confidence of people over 50 and older. Moreover, it also helps build positive climate full of respect for aged people in local community and society. The company under analysis can achieve their social responsibility goal if employer helps Miss Koh fulfil her service. Thirdly, it is important to organize focus groups of discrepant age groups (for instance, 40-4, 50-64, 65+), which can help in discussing the age discrimination in the company and other similar issues (Brownell & Kelly 2013). It is also significant to schedule regular policies, codes, and practices reviews, which appear to be age-based or which reflect negative stereotypes, or affect older employees.
This paper demonstrates that age discrimination is a widespread ethical issue; however, employees of the Eastern region appear to be negatively affected, since Asian countries lag behind the EU and the U.S. in adequately addressing ethical issue of ageism. Nevertheless, the context analysis demonstrates that even the UK faces serious issues with ageism despite numerous policies and ethical-oriented practices. Current case demonstrates that the majority of companies adhere to ‘profit maximization’ business role instead of implementing ‘stakeholder obligation’ function. Therefore, the recommended practices for dealing with ethical dilemma are based on utilitarianism and Kantian moral theory and concern the involvement of the second business role, which is taking care of stakeholders.