Report: IBM used arbitration to skirt ADEA requirements
- IBM has exhibited a pattern of laying off mostly older workers and replacing them with younger, less expensive workers, ProPublica reports.
- Following an investigation, the outlet determined that IBM believed it found a way around Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) requirements. The law generally requires that employers provide protected workers being laid off with the ages of any others involved in reduction in force. The company ended that practice but also removed "age" from the list of potential bias claims workers were waiving in return for severance pay. Instead, it required them to agree to arbitration for such claims. Some, like a former U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) official, told ProPublica that the move appears to undercut the ADEA.
- Internal documents also show that the company deliberately planned to "fund an influx of [early professionals] to correct seniority mix.” And older workers said their involuntary layoffs were processed as voluntary retirements, according to ProPublica.
IBM's arbitration tactic is certainly a novel one. But while the company was allegedly working to create a young image, other employers have identified age as the next frontier in diversity and inclusion. Some are working to create "phased retirement" options, for example, allowing older workers to opt into part-time work or other similar programs, all while warding off the "brain drain" that's expected as baby boomers continue to retire in droves.
Still, despite being outlawed for 50 years, age bias persists and remains an open secret in the workplace, the EEOC previously told HR Dive. And the agency has announced that it will focus on ADEA enforcement this year. To ensure compliance, employers can review their practices and remember to ask those struggling at work whether there's anything the company can do to help.