Older Workers Find Age Discrimination Built Right Into Some Job Websites

If you're looking for work, you might start with one of those websites that posts jobs. But if you're an older adult looking for work, you might have found yourself excluded from some of the features on those sites.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan opened an investigation after a 70-year-old man called her office and complained that he'd been unable to use a resume building tool on a job search site. (Read Madigan's letters requesting information from job website companies she's investigating.)

The problem was the drop-down menu that required you to select the year when you graduated or got your first job. Those dates only went back to 1980. Madigan's office contends that could exclude anyone over 52.

Madigan's office contacted Monster.com, Ladders Inc., Beyond.com, Indeed.com (an NPR funder), CareerBuilder and Vault. Their sites were less restrictive, but they all had their limits. Some only excluded people older than 82, but Madigan says that's still discrimination. The way these job search sites should work, she says, is that "anybody who's alive and wants to look for a job would be able to, and be able to put in accurate information."

Responding to NPR's request for comment, some of the job search sites said the date limit was inadvertent and that they have corrected it. Others wrote about special efforts they make to assist and advise older job hunters. Their full responses are at the end of this article.

Madigan also wants to see the companies' internal documents to see if the exclusions were deliberate or accidental. At this writing, she had received written responses from only Beyond and Indeed, but none of the documents requested.

"Our goal is to fix the problem," says Madigan. "Our goal is not to file a lawsuit."

Some organizations are trying to "fix the problem" in other ways. The AARP has an Employer Pledge Program, where companies promise equal opportunity for all workers and job seekers regardless of age.

Kerry Hannon is the AARP's work and jobs expert and the author of 10 books on work and finance in later life. She says that so many employees who are over 60 tell her that "they look across the table and there is this idea that the employer sees their expiration date." The Employer Pledge Program is important, she says, because "age discrimination is alive and well in the workplace" and AARP members want to know how they can avoid it.

There are also online job search sites specifically geared toward older workers. One of them, RetirementJobs.com, posts open positions at any company that wants to place a listing. But the site also certifies some employers as "age friendly." Tim Driver, the founder and CEO, says an employer is awarded that designation only after his staff investigates the company's practices and culture.

"There's over 100 big American employers now that have gone through the [age friendly] program," says Driver. Those include Fidelity and Wells Fargo and "even government organizations, like the TSA or the Veterans Administration."

But job-seekers don't have to take Driver's word for it. RetirementJobs.com is the only job search site for older workers that lets members post comments describing their experiences with specific companies, Yelp-style.

Driver says they've just started doing this in the past few months. "We wanted to know, are these companies truly walking the talk?" he says.

Well, not always. There are dozens of comments on the site about companies that force out older workers or exclude older job hunters in favor of "recent graduates." On the other hand there are also plenty of five-star reviews, most brimming with gratitude for companies that treat older workers with respect and don't hold their longer experience against them.