Older workers can offer a wealth of skills and knowledge to the contemporary workplace. In general, they're more experienced and more emotionally mature than their younger counterparts. They've been through a lot over the years, and they're often quite adept at avoiding or resolving interpersonal conflicts that can entangle Millennials.
Not everyone sees it that way, however. For too many employers, older workers are simply out of touch and past due to be replaced, preferably by a much younger individual. But age discrimination, as it is called, is forbidden by law, and employers who ignore this fact can get in serious trouble—if there is enough evidence to support a claim. How do you know if you've been victimized by age discrimination? It's a fair question; keep reading for a more detailed discussion.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
The federal labor law that forbids ageism in the workplace is called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). It is intended to protect the rights of older workers—defined here as anyone at least 40 years of age. Signed by President Lyndon Johnson, it has been amended several times in the intervening years. In its current form, the ADEA forbids age-related discriminatory workplace actions such as the following:
- Refusal to hire or promote workers on the basis of age
- Laying off workers on the basis of age
- Denying or reducing benefits on the basis of age
- Forced retirement of older workers (with some exceptions)
The ADEA, which is enforced by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), applies to all businesses with twenty or more employees.
In addition to federal law, older workers in Georgia are protected by the state's Age Discrimination Act (GA Code § 34-1-2). This applies to all workers age 40 to 70 who are employed by a public or private organization of any size. The only exception is when the “reasonable demands” of a position require what would otherwise be considered age-based discrimination.
Common Signs of Age Discrimination
It's not always easy to spot ageism in the workplace, but here are some indications that you're being subjected to unfair treatment:
- Ageist comments – A manager or employee who habitually refers to an employee as an “old-timer” or similar descriptor may be engaging in discriminatory harassment.
- Exclusion from workplace meetings – In addition to verbal evidence of age discrimination, if an older worker isn't being invited to on-site meetings or training sessions, it may be a discriminatory attempt to exclude them from normal workplace activities.
- Pressure to retire – An older employee who keeps being offered a “retirement package” in which they have no interest may have cause consider age discrimination.
- Negative performance reviews – In addition to comments about age or retirement, if a competent older worker starts getting poor grades for no justifiable reason, it may be part of a plan to push them out of the company altogether.
What to Do
If you feel that you're being treated unfairly due to your age, you should complain about age discrimination to your HR department in writing. Sometimes a workplace issue of this nature can be attributed to innocent oversight, and may be corrected by discussing it with the parties involved, but a protected complaint about discrimination based on age also provides some protection from retaliation for having raised the issue.
If poor treatment persists, it may be time to contact an age discrimination lawyer. As with workplace discrimination claims in general, success in court largely depends on documentation. Save all relevant emails and paperwork, and reach out to sympathetic witnesses who can testify on your behalf if needed.