Ideally, the job market should offer equal work opportunities to everyone—regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs, and age. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Age discrimination can occur both in daily life and in the workplace. From seemingly harmless comments to missing out on career-changing opportunities, ageism can severely impact a person’s employment.
Age should not be a factor in determining a person’s capability or qualification to work, especially if they have passed a health test or medical exam and are given a clean bill of health. If you suspect that you may be a victim of age discrimination, here is a guide to help you identify it and address the issue.
What is Age Discrimination?
Age discrimination is the unfavorable treatment of an employee based on their age rather than their merit, capability, or skill. Employees over 40 years old are the ones who usually experience this kind of discrimination.
This can occur at pre-employment—job postings, job description, interviews, hiring, salary offer—and during employment, and covers aspects like task assignments, promotions and raises, performance management and evaluation, training opportunities, demotions, disciplinary actions, benefits, employment termination, and layoffs.
Forms of Age Discrimination in the Workplace
Knowing how age discrimination happens can make it easier to identify and address. The following are typical examples:
Receiving disparaging remarks about age
These remarks span from light, conversational banter to passive-aggressive comments that joke about one’s age, physical condition, adaptability, and the like.
It can also escalate to more aggressive and confrontational statements that aim to discourage older workers from taking opportunities away from the young ones, pressure them into retiring to make way for younger professionals, and so on.
Opportunities are offered to younger employees
Opportunities in the workplace—ranging from training and upskilling or higher-difficulty projects and assignments to critical meetings with clients—are essential for improving skills and progressing career development. An employer may be discriminating if these opportunities are offered to younger employees first or if older employees are passed over for them.
Inequality of job benefits
It is expected that employers treat all employees equally in terms of the scope and amount of benefits received—wages, leaves, insurance coverage, and the like. Older employees receiving lesser benefits or being denied of them entirely regardless of reason can hold their employers liable for age discrimination.
Refusal to grant salary raises or promotions
Age discrimination may occur when older workers are passed over for raises or promotions with no justification, or when younger employees are granted raises or promotions in their place. This also includes promotions that are given to a younger, new hire from outside the company.
Unjustified forced retirement
Employers may choose to offer retirement packages to workers, especially in the event of pressing business needs. However, these retirement packages may be cases of age discrimination if older workers are singled out for these offers without any other reasonable justification.
Laws and Policies to Protect You
In the U.S., there are laws on both the state and federal levels that protect workers from age discrimination.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) is a federal law that protects individuals 40 years old and older from employment discrimination on the basis of age, as enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The law covers employers with 20 or more employees, labor organizations with more than 25 members, employment agencies, and federal, state, and local governments, except for independent contractors and military personnel.
Fair Housing and Employment Act
The Fair Housing and Employment Act is a California state law that prohibits age discrimination in all areas of employment against workers over the age of 40. This state law applies to a wider range of employers—specifically, ones with five or more full-time or part-time employees.
Other states have their own legislation to protect older workers from age discrimination. More often than not, these laws apply to nearly all employers, not just the ones set in ADEA. Employers may have internal policies to prohibit ageist practices both in recruitment and in the workplace.
What to Do When You Experience Age Discrimination
Age discrimination in the workplace can be insidious, from seemingly innocuous comments to severely limiting the opportunities available to you. Depending on the severity of your experience, here are the steps you can take to address the issue:
Invest in continuous growth
To leave a better impression on potential or current employers, it is important to dispel the stereotype of complacency in older workers. Take a proactive approach in improving your skills and updating your industry knowledge. Demonstrate an elevated sense of ethics and professionalism. If possible, find a mentor who can provide you guidance and support.
Raise your concerns with HR
Generally, a company’s HR should address any and all employee concerns, including discrimination in the workplace. Document the details of the incident, such as time and date and names of witnesses, if any, to present your case better.
As internal policies will differ per company, formalizing your complaint or filing a grievance may be the next step to resolving the issue.
File a discrimination charge
Should HR be unable to address the incident adequately, you may opt to work with an employment lawyer and file a discrimination charge with the EEOC. The claim should be filed within 180 or 300 days from the date of the alleged violation, depending on your state.
When filing, be prepared to provide your notes on the incident, names of possible witnesses, and other relevant details. The EEOC will investigate and determine if legal actions can be taken against your employer.
In the Workplace, Age is Just a Number
Age discrimination is an alarming issue in the workplace and, by nature, is difficult to spot. By knowing the forms it can take and the laws that protect you from it, you can better address the issue and take action against it.
For legal assistance with age discrimination in employment, Shegerian Law has a team of professional lawyers equipped to aid in exploring your legal options.
Did You Know?
$31.1 Million Verdict in Age Discrimination Case
Rael was a 35-year employee and at the time of her separation 54 years of age. Her record was stellar. However, once new direct supervisors came into the picture, Rael began to be victimized by frequent harassing and offensive comments, including “you are outdated,” “we need younger workers in here,” “you are part of the old culture,” “unwilling to follow the new culture,” “you are resistant to change,” and “you need to change,” among numerous other comments. Rael’s workload was suddenly increased, she was refused training (despite younger employees freely receiving training), she was treated differently (and noticeably) by her supervisors compared to younger employees, denied her applications for higher positions under false pretenses in favor of a younger employee and told by Estavillo, who was under 40 years of age, “We just didn’t want you.”