Age Discrimination in the Workplace
Ageism is a serious problem for baby boomers looking for work, hoping to start a new career or wanting to stay employed. According to a 2015 news report by Reuters, “although the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discrimination against people 40 and older, a 2013 survey of 1,502 adults by non-profit advocacy group AARP showed that two-thirds of workers between the ages of 45-74 said they have seen or experienced ageism.”
In her Forbes article “The Ugly Truth About Age Discrimination,” human workplace specialist Liz Ryan says that “age discrimination is everywhere. I hear more examples of age discrimination than I hear about sex discrimination, racial discrimination and every other kind put together.”
Age-Based Discrimination in the Workplace
Unfortunately, like other forms of discrimination, it’s difficult to know exactly how prevalent age discrimination in the workplace is because it’s not always reported.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), tracks discrimination charges filed and are “perhaps the most readily available means to track the prevalence of age discrimination claims. Age-related charges make up a growing number of discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC,” says Stuart Furman, Esq. an elder law attorney in California for over 35 years and author of the award-winning “ElderCare Ready Book” and “ElderCare Ready Pack.”
According to the EEOC, there were:
- 20,857 age discrimination charges filed in 2016 (more than in previous years), a statistic that “dwarfs the number of pregnancy-based discrimination charges in 2016 (3,486), religion-based charges (3,825), and national-origin based discrimination charges (9,840),” Furman says.
“While slightly lower, the number of age-based discrimination charges are more in line with race-based charges (32,309), disability-related charges (28,073), and harassment-based charges (28,216).”
“In other words, age-based discrimination claims have soared in recent years – they are very prevalent,” Furman states.
Despite the increasing number of age discrimination charges, from a legal perspective, even if the facts are seemingly strong in an employee’s case, age discrimination cases are still hard to prove. “The claimant needs to show inconsistencies in the employer’s proffered reason for the adverse action and develop evidence showing the employer’s motive was based on age,” Furman says.
Still, if you feel you’re being discriminated against in the workplace because of age, then you should speak up. “Bring the issue to the attention of your supervisor or human resource representative, preferably in writing. You should also consult with an experienced attorney, as the law can be complex and very few cases are straightforward,” Furman advises.
Because laws vary by state, it’s difficult to say exactly what any one employee’s specific rights are regarding age discrimination in the workplace. In California, for example, “employees are protected against age discrimination by two main sets of laws:
- The Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”)
- California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA),” Furman says.
It’s important to explore your rights and talk to an attorney in your state if you believe you’re being discriminated against because of your age.
It’s also important to “document in real-time the circumstances you believe to be discriminatory and raise the issues (preferably in writing) to the appropriate management personnel,” Furman advises.
Of course, for older job seekers, facing age discrimination head-on is more challenging. “It’s unlawful to reject a job-seeker because he or she’s over 40,” Ryan says, but of course, how will you ever prove that’s why you didn’t get the job (or an interview)?
“We hurt ourselves emotionally and operationally when we let an amorphous bogeyman like Age Discrimination slow us down,” Ryan advises. “We can’t afford to do that. We have to remember that we’re more powerful than any obstacle in our way, and find an argument compelling enough that hiring managers can’t ignore it.”
All forms of discrimination are painful, but with age discrimination on the rise in workplaces across the United States, it’s important to stand up for your rights and push back if you think you’re being discriminated against because of your age. With a wide scale push back, social stereotypes about an older workforce will change and reality about the value that older workers add to organizations will eventually set in.
Have you or someone you know experienced ageism? What did you do about it? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
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