While the length of an employee’s stay with a company is an important point to consider while designing a benefits package, benefits in general should be age neutral. Age discrimination in the Employment Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers over the age of 40. Employers who provide unequal benefits based solely on age have to justify their choice to do so.
Benefits as student loan assistance, childcare services, or even gym memberships and sport outings may seem tailored for younger employees. However, most benefits often associated with employees under 40 could actually appeal to older employees just as much.
Scenarios that support this point include the following:
1. Flexible work schedules
It’s easy to see how employees over 40 will value flexibility in their work schedule: they too want (and deserve) to spend time with their families, especially if their kids are close to leaving home for college.
2. Childcare benefits
Parents don’t actually have exclusive claim to childcare responsibility. Grandparents, who can be as young as 40, may be either solely or partly responsible for the care of their grandchildren, or may be sharing the cost of childcare. A good alternative would be to refer to these benefits as “caregiver benefits” or “kinship benefits” to better describe the wide scope of scenarios that would be eligible.
3. Student loan and tuition assistance
It’s pretty common for employees in their thirties and beyond to go back to school to finish a few remaining credits, enhance existing skills, or to learn new ones; just like their younger counterparts they may take out loans if needed. If not for themselves, older employees may take out loans to send their children or grandchildren to school.
4. Gym memberships and sporting activities
Exercise and sports don’t have an age limit. There’s no reason why employees who have always been athletic won’t enjoy sports throughout their life—although for highly physical sporting activities (e.g., marathons, rock climbing), employers should require doctor’s approval for all employees of all ages who want to participate.
Employees need different things throughout their work lives, and these needs vary among employees. Health and financial issues do not discriminate between young and old. An older employee may be more likely to suffer from a heart disease, but then a younger employee may just as easily suffer from a congenital illness. And retirement isn’t a topic strictly for people past their twenties, at least not for those who want to get their affairs in order at any time in their lives.
It is crucial to steer away from branding benefits as catering to a specific age group. Doing so, can be perceived as discrimination even if coming from well-meaning decisions. Smart employers offer benefits to employees across age brackets, in which taking any part of these benefits, would not impact the conditions or terms of employment.
Employers must properly communicate their benefit offerings to all employees, which includes those that may not be interested or have need for specific benefits. Take time to explain in detail what is offered and how it can be of value to employees.
And employers need to remember that while they generally don’t intend to be exclusive of any employee group, they could still be perceived as doing so just from the terms they use.
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This article provides general information and shouldn’t be construed as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws may change over time and can vary by location and industry, please consult a lawyer or HR expert for advice specific to your business. You can also contact Payroll Systems to inquire about our HR support services.