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How to Spot Ageism in the Workplace

In spite of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA of 1967), ageism continues to plague workplaces around the country. In too many cases, decisions about hiring, work assignments, promotions, and terminations are based, at least partially, on the age of the candidates or employees involved.

The ADEA has its limitations since it only applies to companies with 20 or more employees. Fortunately, almost all states have their own anti-age discrimination laws that extend protections to applicants and employees of much smaller businesses. If you are being treated unfairly due to ageism at your workplace, you have the option of suing your employer for fair compensation. Nonetheless, in order to fight ageism and receive fair treatment under the law, it is necessary to have a strong employment attorney at your side.

Why Skilled Legal Representation Is Vital When Dealing with Ageism

One of the difficulties in combatting ageism in the workplace is that it is often subtle, masquerading as streamlining production or keeping current with a rapidly changing business environment. It takes a skilled attorney familiar with ageism laws to understand not only how to spot this type of discrimination, but also how to prove its existence to a judge’s satisfaction.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that individuals who are members of a protected class may be hypersensitive to perceived slights or instances of mistreatment. This is why, if you are being victimized by ageism at your job, it is essential to have a discerning attorney evaluate your case on its individual merits to determine whether it will stand up in court.

Spotting Examples of Ageism in Your Workplace

If you feel suspicious that ageism is occurring at your place of employment, here are some examples of ways this form of discrimination may show up:

  • Recruitment ads feature words like “vibrant,” “quick-thinking,” “up-to-date,” and “eager,” while not disallowed, in some cases such words may be code for “young”
  • Comments or questions relating to age come up during the initial interview (e.g. “I’ll bet you remember the Kennedy assassination vividly,” “That’s a beautiful watch — they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” “You mentioned your children; how old are they?”)
  • Older employees are left out of company meetings, direct interactions with clients or customers, travel to trade shows, small offsite gatherings
  • Older employees do not receive opportunities for advancement through enhanced educational opportunities, specialized training, or attending professional conferences
  • Individuals over a certain age are passed over for the most challenging assignments which may serve the double purpose of preventing advancement and discouraging the employee from continuing to work at an increasingly tedious job (pressured to retire)
  • Older employees are given poor performance reviews for the first time, often when a new boss takes the helm, making advancement unlikely
  • Assumptions are made about older employees, e.g. that they have more time to work because they don’t have young children, that they are physically weak, or do not have the energy or stamina as others in the workplace
  • Disparaging comments and remarks are made about one senior employee or about older people in general on a regular basis (though they may be framed as “all in fun”) referring to the inability of older people to see or hear well or think clearly, or suggesting that people over 60 wear diapers or prefer rocking chairs to other seating
  • Jokes, cartoons, or other postings that mock the elderly
  • Older employees are passed over for raises and promotions
  • Older employees are being laid off or fired — if the staff at the workplace is getting younger (i.e. older employees are being let go and younger employees are being hired)

It is worth repeating that some of the above-mentioned possible indications of ageism, such as an older employee not being promoted, may not reflect age discrimination at all, but may simply be a response to a particular employee’s record of recent low productivity. Still, if you are working for a business in which there is a suspect pattern that makes you uncomfortable, it is well worth consulting with an age discrimination attorney.

Why Older Employees Sometimes Accept the Unacceptable

Since older workers are aware that their age makes it increasingly unlikely for them to find another job, they will typically put up with inferior treatment in order to retain their current position. This means that they may accept some or all of the following indignities to retain their present income level:

  • Being left out of the decision-making process
  • Being moved to a less attractive or inconvenient location in the workplace
  • Working a less convenient schedule or taking a pay cut due to an unwanted cut in hours
  • Being denied a deserved raise or promotion

Older employees may even endure a certain level of age harassment if it means they can continue earning money and doing work they find satisfying and/or feel a commitment to.

Here’s Your Coat, What’s Your Hurry

In a high number of cases, ageism in the workplace manifests as being pressured to leave or retire. This can be well-crafted to appear as random or coincidental occurrences that just happen to impact one or more older employees.

Gradually (or occasionally rather quickly) older workers may begin to feel like outcasts, left out of meetings, having their schedules made less convenient and their workplace location less pleasant. Their salary may seem stuck (or even be lowered) with no raises or bonuses in sight. Employers may feel that they are being strategic by easing their older employees to leave, but an experienced employment attorney can spot and prove ageism. If you are being targeted for such cruel and illegal misconduct, get in touch with a well-respected ageism lawyer as soon as possible for justice, damages, and the restoration of your dignity.