Age Discrimination: What Can You Do About It?

 

Ideally, workplaces must offer equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of cultural background, gender, religion, race, and age. Unfortunately, while it is ideal, this isn’t always the case. There are different injustices employees may experience, such as racial, religious, and, of course, age discrimination. 

Age discrimination, also known as ageism, can happen in someone’s everyday life, especially in the workplace. From seemingly harmless remarks to missing out on career-changing opportunities, age discrimination can severely impact a person’s employment.

That said, no employer should use an individual’s age to determine their capabilities or qualifications, especially if they passed a medical exam and are fit to work. 

If you suspect you experienced discrimination because of your age, there are steps you can take to identify and address the issue. But first, you must understand what it is and be aware of some common age discrimination examples in the workplace.

What is Age Discrimination and What Can You Do About It?

What Is Age Discrimination Based in the Employment Act?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) defines age discrimination as the unfair treatment of an employee based solely on their age rather than their merit, capability, or skill. Employees over 40 usually experience this type of discrimination, but individuals from other age groups may also fall victim.

That said, how would you know what is age discrimination in the workplace? Generally, ageism can occur in pre-employment procedures and processes a business takes, such as the following:

  • Job postings
  • Job descriptions
  • Interviews 
  • Hiring
  • Salary offers

Age discrimination can also occur during employment, influencing aspects including:

  • Task assignments
  • Promotions and salary increase 
  • Performance management and evaluation
  • Training opportunities
  • Demotions
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Benefits
  • Employment Termination
  • Layoffs

Is Age Discrimination Legal?

According to the ADEA of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), age discrimination against individuals aged 40 and above is prohibited. This act prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment. However, it’s lawful for an employer or other covered entities to prefer older workers over younger ones, even if the employer is 40 or above.

What Qualifies as Age Discrimination: Examples of Age Discrimination in the Workplace

So now you may wonder, what does age discrimination look like, and does age discrimination still exist in the modern workplace?

Yes. It exists and is prevalent across various organizations and industries. Knowing how it happens can make it easier to identify and address. 

Receiving disparaging remarks about age

These comments range from light banter to passive-aggressive jokes about one’s age, physical condition, abilities, and the like. It can also escalate to more aggressive and confrontational statements that discourage older workers from taking opportunities away from younger ones or pressure them into retiring to make way for younger professionals.

Younger employees unjustly receive opportunities 

There are always opportunities in the workplace for an employee to grow, whether to handle a tougher project, train for more responsibilities, or attend critical meetings with valuable clients. These opportunities help improve their skills and boost career development. However, employers may discriminate if they offer these to younger employees first or don’t consider approaching older employees. 

Inequality of job benefits

Employees expect employers to treat everyone equally in terms of the scope and number of benefits they receive—wages, leaves, insurance coverage, etc. Regardless of the reason, older employees who receive fewer or no benefits can hold their employers liable for age discrimination.

Employers may know their older workers may have medical issues, which could increase health insurance costs. However, it doesn’t justify denying or providing lesser benefits to older employees.

Refusal to grant salary raises or promotions

Age discrimination may occur when employers skip over older workers for raises or promotions without justification. This also includes unwarranted promotions given to young new hires. 

Unjustified forced retirement

Employers often offer retirement packages to workers, especially because of pressing business needs. However, these retirement packages may be considered a case of age discrimination if employers only offer them to older workers without proper justification.

Does Age Discrimination Apply to Younger Employees?

Yes. Although age discrimination is typically more prevalent towards older employees, younger workers may also face discriminatory comments about their age. However, while the ADEA protects employees above 40, some states also have laws protecting younger workers from age discrimination. 

Laws and Policies to Protect You

In the U.S., state and federal laws protect employees from being a victim of age discrimination. 

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

The EEOC enforces the ADEA of 1967. It’s a federal law that protects individuals 40 years and older from employment discrimination based on age. The law does not cover independent contractors and military personnel; instead, it covers a range of companies, including the following:

  • Employers with 20 or more employees
  • Labor organizations with more than 25 members
  • Employment agencies
  • Local, state, and federal governments
Fair Housing and Employment Act

The Fair Housing and Employment Act is a California state law that makes age discrimination against workers over 40 illegal in all areas of employment. It applies to employers with five or more full-time or part-time employees.

Other states have legislation to protect their older working residents from age discrimination. These laws apply to nearly all employers beyond what’s set in the ADEA. Employers may also have internal policies to prohibit ageist practices in recruitment and the workplace.

How to Prove Age Discrimination in Hiring: 4 Signs to Look Out For 

Age discrimination is unlawful, and individuals may experience its adverse effects without knowing how to respond. Whether employers do it subtly or not, age discrimination is a common problem with serious repercussions. Here are some indications of age discrimination to be mindful of.

1. Frequently mentioning age

One typical example of age discrimination in the workplace is when your superiors frequently mention your age or make jokes and casual comments about it. While occasional humor is acceptable, continuous remarks or references to your age constitute harassment.

Frequent references to age-related ailments also constitute harassment. For instance, if you frequently hear jokes about impaired hearing, vision, or sluggishness, it is likely a form of harassment. Such remarks can instill self-doubt and discomfort in the workplace, leading to uncertainty about your capabilities and may lead to quitting.

2. Consistent rejection

A typical example of rejection is via a well-deserved promotion. If you’ve experienced your employer turning you down for a promotion in favor of a younger colleague, you’ve likely experienced harassment. 

It’s worth noting that missing a promotion does not always mean discrimination. However, if the younger worker has less experience, less skill, or less work reliability compared to you, then age discrimination may have occurred.

This also applies to other work activities, such as special assignments, projects, overtime, and other tasks you may be qualified for. An employer may exclude and isolate you entirely in certain situations, leaving you out of teams, meetings, and other work-related activities.

3. Hiring younger workers

An employer that frequently hires a younger workforce exhibits a bias towards youth rather than someone with skill and experience. There may be evidence of blatant employment age discrimination if you are disregarded as overqualified in favor of a younger, less experienced candidate.

4. Consistently giving you reasons to leave

Employers may use methods to nudge employees to leave, regardless of their performance. Some tactics employers may use include:

  • Offering an attractive retirement package
  • Abolishing your position or job title
  • Termination without valid reasons
  • Implicit illegibility to take family leaves just because you don’t have children
  • Unexplained job reassignment
  • Frequently mentioning the possibility of you leaving

As an employee, you’re entitled to a workplace free from hostility. It is crucial to uphold employee rights in all industries. An employer who permits derogatory comments or discriminatory actions towards an employee based on age should be held responsible for the consequences. 

With all these signs and examples of age discrimination in the workplace, it’s easy to feel discomfort knowing that it can happen to anyone. That said, should age discrimination be made illegal in the workplace? Yes, and it already is. 

Fortunately, today, numerous laws protect employees of different ages from this discrimination. Hopefully, related cases will become less frequent through strict implementation. Suppose you suspect your employer has been mistreating you due to age discrimination or other illegal reasons. In that case, seek the advice of a competent lawyer immediately.

What to Do When You Experience Age Discrimination

Age discrimination in the workplace can range from seemingly innocent comments to severely limiting opportunities. Below are a few actions you can take to address your age discrimination issue. 

Invest in continuous growth

Dispelling the stereotype of complacency in older workers is essential to leaving a better impression on potential or current employers. Take a proactive approach to improving your skills and keeping up with industry trends. Exhibit a more mature sense of professionalism and ethics. If you can, find a mentor who can provide you with guidance and support.

Raise your concerns with HR

Generally, a company’s HR should address employee concerns, including age discrimination in the workplace. To build a stronger case, document the incident’s details, such as time, date, and witnesses’ names.

Since internal policies will differ among companies, making a formal complaint or filing a grievance can be your following action to resolve the issue. 

File a discrimination charge

If HR cannot adequately address the age discrimination issue, you may want to work with an employment lawyer or an attorney for age discrimination to file a formal discrimination charge with the EEOC. Depending on your state, you must file the claim within 180 or 300 days of the alleged violation.

When filing, prepare your notes on the incident, who might be possible witnesses, and other relevant details. The EEOC will determine if you can legally act against your employer.

Age Does Not Define Skill

Recognizing age discrimination can be challenging in the workplace. However, understanding the many forms it can take and the laws that prohibit it can help you identify and take steps to address it.

If you have been a victim of age discrimination, it is important to take action by filing a complaint with the EEOC. But before filing a complaint, you should speak with an employment law firm to understand your legal options and discuss your case thoroughly.

For legal guidance and assistance with age discrimination in employment, contact Shegerian & Associates. Our expert team can guide you with your age discrimination case, so you’re sure to go through the proper legal steps. Schedule a consultation and receive professional legal guidance today!

 

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.”

 


Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.