It is no surprise that the subject of age discrimination comes up with job hunters – especially during the job application process. The question that many job seekers ask is, “why do employers ask for my date of birth (DOB)? Is the employer using my age as criteria for screening candidates?

Asking a candidate or employee’s age is not illegal. However, it is illegal to use age as a criterion in hiring decisions, except in some limited pre-defined situations (i.e. police officers, firefighters or employment of minors).  It’s a fine line, but a clear distinction that is spelled out in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) which prohibits employment discrimination against people 40 years of age or older in companies with 20 or more employees. The governing body, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADEA.

There are no protections for candidates or workers under the age of 40 unless the state you live in has enacted legislation with wider inclusion.

So why do employers need to ask about your date of birth (DOB)? To be honest, many companies do it because the applications have not been updated, it saves them time or the application also serves as a waiver to do a background check. The problem with asking for date of birth is that if someone challenges their hiring practices, the company has one more hurdle to prove why date of birth was not used in the criterion.

The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) outlines some best practices for companies that avoid the need for date of birth declarations early in the interviewing process. They include:

  • Use a background check authorization form that is separate from the job application process. Keep this form separate from the hiring process and out of the hands of the decision makers and hiring managers.
  • Limit date of birth requests to background checks only – if you use a third-party vendor, use their forms.
  • Consider using vendors to request date of birth information using external channels – candidates use toll-free numbers or fax information directly to the vendor.
  • Employers give preaddressed stamped envelopes for candidates to mail in their information to the vendor.
  • Include the company’s stance on employment discrimination on the request for information.

Even though SHRM outlines the best practices for employment applications; the fact is most companies (unless they are large companies or companies with heavy compliance or legal staffs) do not follow these practices.

Bottom line, the greater arm’s length the employer has in asking a candidate’s age in the interviewing process, the easier it will be for them to defend against any claims of discrimination.

Consider if educating your potential new employer is good approach because it only highlights your sensitivity to the matter and probably will backfire. Companies who want to pay lower wages for a position hire inexperienced people and companies who value experience know that tenure comes with the package.