Though age discrimination in the workplace has been illegal since the passing of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the law has not eliminated the issue of discrimination against workers because of their age. Here's what you need to know about what qualifies as age discrimination in the workplace and how to respond if you feel you have been the target of age discrimination in employment.
What Is Age Discrimination?
It's important to understand exactly what age discrimination is to be able identify it when it happens and fight back against it.
Age discrimination in employment refers to the unfair, biased or unequal treatment of a worker or job candidate based upon their age, rather than the merit, skill or experience they bring to the job. Some common ways that workers experience this discrimination might include comments about being "over the hill," losing a promotion or opportunity to a less-qualified younger worker, company-wide layoffs that mostly affect older workers, or not being hired because the employer wants someone "younger looking."
While younger workers can also experience age discrimination at work, U.S. law only protects workers who are age 40 or older from age discrimination in the workplace. This means that younger workers who feel that they are treated unfairly because of their youth do not have a legal recourse.
How to Identify Age Discrimination in the Workplace
One of the reasons why age discrimination persists in employment, despite being illegal, is that it can be difficult to identify when it is happening. Getting comments from younger workers about your age or your perceived social media skills could be workplace banter, or it could be part of a pattern of marginalization of older workers. How can workers and job applicants know if they have been discriminated against?
To identify issues of ageism in your workplace, it's important to keep an eye out for patterns. Some common patterns that can indicate a problem with age discrimination include:
- Referring to younger job candidates as "energetic" or "fresh faces" or referring to older workers or candidates as "set in their ways."
- Assumptions about the skills and capabilities of workers based upon their age. For instance, assuming that an older worker would not be a good fit as a Social Media Manager.
- Qualified older candidates are consistently passed over for promotions or opportunities.
- Social segregation between older and younger workers. For example, if only the workers under age 40 are invited to happy hour or the company softball game, that could indicate an ageist attitude.
- Forced retirement of older workers.
What To Do If You Experience Age Discrimination in the Workplace
There are a number of ways to protect yourself from age discrimination. To start, investing in continuous growth within your career can help dispel any myths or misconceptions employers or potential employers might have about you because of your age. Being able to show that you have continued to learn and grow throughout your career can help you keep your opportunities open and help reset expectations for older workers in general.
If you are experiencing age discrimination in your current workplace, make sure you document the patterns you're noticing and take your concerns to human resources. It's their job to address any issues of discrimination in the workplace. Having documentation to back up your claim will likely help your case, and HR can advise you on how to formalize your complaint or file a grievance.
If the HR department is not able to resolve the issue to your satisfaction, you can file a discrimination charge with the EEOC. This will require you to hire an employment lawyer and file your charge within 180 to 300 days of the alleged violation, depending on your state.
Age discrimination is an ugly reality in many workplaces. Understanding exactly what this kind of discrimination looks like and the options available to combat it can help you protect yourself.