How to address age discrimination on the job

Last updated: June 16, 2024
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Rochelly Fajardo
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How to address age discrimination on the job
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As unfortunate as it is, age discrimination in the workplace is still a reality. Have you ever been denied promotions or other opportunities due to your age? Is your opinion considered less valuable because you are "too young" or "too old?"

If you have experienced age discrimination at work, you are not alone. However, it's essential to know that you can fight back and exercise your rights as an employee. This guide explains age discrimination, its impact, and the steps you can take to deal with it as a job applicant.

What is age discrimination?

Age discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of an employee based on their age. It can include being denied promotions or opportunities, being passed over for job openings, or being treated differently in the workplace due to your age.

Age discrimination can also occur when an employer sets different standards for employees of different ages or fires employees due to their age. As a victim of age discrimination, you need to protect your rights and interests from further damage by seeking legal assistance immediately.

A survey showed that 12% of employees were passed over for a promotion because of their age, while 7% were fired due to discriminatory practices in the workplace. 16% of applicants reported not getting the job they applied for due to age discrimination.

Signs You Experienced Age Discrimination

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The laws around age discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, protecting employees over 40 from age discrimination for compensation, discharge, promotion, and hiring.

These laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on their age. They also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who complain about age discrimination.

The laws apply to all employment agencies, federal companies, companies with 20 or more employees, labor organizations with 25 or more members, local government, and state government.

The law does not apply to independent contractors, military personnel, or elected officials. Besides this federal law, all states also have specific laws that prohibit age discrimination. You can find laws by each state on the Workplace Fairness website.

Moreover, you can follow the #agediscrimination hashtag on Jobcase to be a part of the conversation surrounding employment discrimination due to age. You can also get advice from other people on dealing with discrimination in hiring and discriminatory compensation decisions.

Signs you're a victim of age discrimination in the workplace

AARP data shows that 78% of older workers have experienced or seen age discrimination at work. Here are six signs that you might be being discriminated against based on your age.

1. You're not getting a raise anymore

If you haven't gotten a raise in the past few years, you might have a case of age discrimination. After all, if your employer is paying younger workers more than you, the chances are good that they're discriminating against older individuals in favor of their younger counterparts.

You may also not be getting the additional benefits of the job, such as training and upskilling. Likewise, stopping benefits after a certain age is also a sign of concern.

Of course, there could be other reasons why you haven't gotten a raise lately, such as poor performance or a hiring freeze. But if you're performing well and your younger colleagues are getting raises, it might be worth looking into whether age discrimination is at play.

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Before you file any claims for age discrimination, it might be helpful to ask your employer for a raise. If they refuse you the privileges of employment due to age-biased reasons, you can go ahead and file a complaint.

2. You have to do unpleasant job assignments

Often, employers assign older employees tasks that other employees do not want to handle. It can include paperwork and data entry, which are jobs that younger workers aren't too eager to do.

You may find yourself responding to a lot of customer service calls or processing sensitive financial documents like taxes. If you're doing low-level and repetitive work, this could signify age discrimination.

3. Your company constantly fires older workers and hires younger ones

Does your company have a habit of firing people on the basis of age? Often, older employees are victims of age discrimination in the workplace because employers believe a younger person will be able to fulfill that role better, even though there are no concerns about the performance of the older professional currently in that position.

The decision is merely based on age bias and is deemed a wrongful termination. If you have been targeted for termination because of your age, you may be eligible to take legal action against your employer.

Discrimination against people can include verbal or written comments that talk negatively about someone’s age.

Age-related derogatory remarks may be a sign that your employer is discriminating against you. When you hear someone commenting about how old or young you look, this should raise some red flags in your mind.

Comments about your physical appearance can also have a negative impact on your mental health and performance.

Employers are supposed to ensure their employees have access to the right tools and resources they need to excel at their jobs. So if you're not getting the technical assistance or mentoring you need because the employer believes it will be a ''waste'' on an ''oldie'' like you, it's about time you file a complaint.

Types of Age Discrimination

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Research shows many older workers have to put up with unwanted comments and harassment in the workplace. Nearly half of workers in the 40 to 60 age bracket have faced such comments.

If your employer makes ageist assumptions, such as older workers aren't good at social media-related activities or technology, that's a major sign of age bias.

5. People deal with you differently at the workplace

If your boss and colleagues seem to be avoiding you, it could be a red flag. Perhaps they are not giving you the raises or promotions that you should have earned. You may also find that your colleagues treat you differently at work and don't include you in activities outside of work.

6. Social segregation

Unfortunately, older workers are often subjected to a lot of social segregation and bullying. It means they're often excluded from activities and meetings that younger workers regularly attend.

They may be left out of business lunches or after-work happy hours, creating feelings of isolation and disenfranchisement in the workplace.

If you find yourself excluded from certain training or team-building activities, you should take the issue up with the HR department.

How to fight against age discrimination in the workplace

Now that you know how to spot age discrimination in the workplace, it's also essential to understand how to address it. Who can you report the issue to if you believe you have been treated unfairly based on age? What does the process look like?

Willingness to Report Age Discrimination

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Know that it is your right to complain against discrimination. A report found that willingness to report age discrimination decreased among employees with age.

Keep in mind that if you keep ignoring age bias in your workplace, it may worsen with time or create more problems for you in the future. Here are seven steps you can take to fight age discrimination.

1. Talk to your supervisor

The first step in addressing age discrimination is to talk to your supervisor. If you feel that you are being mistreated because of your age, it is crucial to bring this up with your boss. They may not be aware of how their actions affect you, and they may be willing to make changes to improve the situation.

If you are uncomfortable talking to your supervisor, other options include discussing the matter with HR. They may solve the problem through an informal discussion or conversation.

2. Record the incidents

Keep a record of all the comments or incidents that lead you to believe you're being discriminated against.

Make sure that the behavior is indeed discriminatory by gathering evidence and documenting any incidents. It may be helpful to keep a journal of your experiences in the workplace. Include dates, times, names, and any other relevant details in your entries.

3. File a complaint

If age discrimination is edging toward harassment, file a complaint through HR or other relevant departments within the company.

Check your company's procedure for handling these issues and document everything that has happened.

Gather any evidence, including emails, notes from conversations, and witnesses who can attest to your experience.

Stay calm and professional throughout the process, as this will help you get a fair outcome and ensure that you keep your reputation intact.

4. Hire a lawyer

If you plan to pursue the matter further, it helps to have legal counsel. A lawyer can help you file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state agency.

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As you can see in the table above, New York's age discrimination laws make you eligible for compensatory and punitive compensation if age discrimination is proven.

It's imperative to hire a lawyer since they'll have a deeper understanding of state and federal laws about labor and employment.

5. File a charge with the EEOC

The next step would be to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or state agency.

The EEOC is responsible for investigating and enforcing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), making it illegal for American employers to discriminate against employees age 40 or older. If you file a charge with the EEOC, they will investigate your claim and decide whether there is enough evidence to prove that discrimination has occurred.

The EEOC opened over 20,000 cases of age discrimination in 2020. If they find that discrimination has occurred, they will try to resolve the issue through mediation.

6. File a lawsuit

You can also file a lawsuit against your employer if the EEOC does not respond to you within 60 days. The EEOC may also send a letter giving you the right to sue.

It will be essential to have documentation of the discrimination. This may include notes from conversations, emails, or other communications that show discriminatory behavior.

It is also crucial to have witnesses who can attest to the discrimination. These may be co-workers, friends, or family members.

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If you win your lawsuit, you may be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate you for the harm done to you. Punitive damages punish the individual or company in question and deter future discrimination.

7. Negotiate out of court

Most companies prefer settling out of court as it saves time and money.

An out-of-court settlement will involve you and your employer presenting your case to a neutral third party, who will then decide the action to be taken.

It may be the best option for you if you cannot obtain legal representation or if you have reason to believe that you will be discriminated against further.

You can also negotiate with your employer directly. For example, you may try reaching out to HR to request a transfer to another department or team within the company.

Additionally, you could offer to work on special projects or internships to gain new skills and increase your value to the company.

Put an end to ageism and age discrimination

Age discrimination can be discouraging and disheartening. It's essential to know your rights and take action if you feel that you're experiencing age discrimination. Then you can put an end to this form of discrimination.

Besides knowing your rights, you should also become part of programs, campaigns, and organizations actively combating ageism in the workplace. For instance, Project WHEN is an excellent place to get started. Likewise, you can support legislation, such as POWADA (Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act), or advocate for such laws in your state.

If your current workplace seems like a lost cause, you can look for a new job on Jobcase — a platform where you can see jobs in the field of your interest from hundreds of job boards and sites.

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