High-tech companies concerned over whether their policies and procedures treat older employees fairly should note the terms a Massachusetts computer firm recently negotiated with an anti-discrimination agency.
The January 14, 1999 agreement reached between Bull NH Information Systems Inc. and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) settles charges that the company discriminated against older workers during layoffs of 2,000 employees in the early 1990s.
The MCAD ruled against the company in 1996. Both the state and the EEOC continue to press a separate case in federal court, alleging that the company illegally forced older workers to waive their rights to file discrimination claims as a condition of receiving severance pay.
The settlement includes no monetary payments or admissions of wrongdoing. Its importance for employers is in the new policies and procedures it establishes for avoiding age discrimination in the future. The ranks of older workers employed by high-tech companies likely will expand as companies learn to value their expertise and experience. At Bull NH, for example, the average age of the workforce is nearly 50, above that of most other high-tech firms.
Under the settlement, the company agreed to the following six items. These six points are good ones to consider for your organization.
- Give notice to former employees of future job vacancies and the right to file a discrimination complaint if not rehired.
- Treat seniority as a tie-breaker when making rehiring or termination decisions among equally qualified individuals.
- Train supervisors on age discrimination law and require them to report suspected violations to the company's EEO officer.
- Require senior management to review any decisions to lay off workers older than age 40 to ensure that age is not a factor in the decisions.
- Review voluntary layoffs of workers age 40 or older to ensure that coercion or duress is not involved.
- Change the internal complaint procedure to require prompt and thorough investigations of complaints.
Source: AlignMark, January 1999. 258 Southhall Lane, Suite 400, Maitland, FL, 32751. 800/652-4587.