In the Native American culture, the elderly are known as wisdom keepers. In Japanese culture, they value and are dutiful to the older generation. Yet, in America, senior citizens are essentially invisible at best and the target of discrimination at worst. They are an overlooked population when it comes to everything from advertising, to television shows, to fashion, and, if they are portrayed, it is mostly in a negative light.
When it comes to employment, seniors looking for work or who are already employed feel this prejudice the most, and that's age discrimination. Collectively, this is called ageism, and it's an ugly underbelly of our society that needs to be eliminated.
In 2013, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration, 1 in 7 Americans are 65 years or older, and that number is likely to grow exponentially every year. So why is it, with numbers like that, we are still not more appreciative of our seniors? Somewhere along the line it became acceptable to stereotype them, devalue them, and consider them old, out of date, and behind the times.
This will be an interesting paradox, if this trend of marginalizing older people doesn't stop soon, as, by 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 and older. That means that as a society we are making a conscious decision to treat millions of our own people in an undignified and negative way, simply because of their age, and that is unfathomable.
Ageism comes about subtly at first, particularly in the workforce. An older employee and a younger employee may make the same complaint about something, but the older one is viewed as cranky, while the younger one might be called strategic. The discrimination often becomes more apparent as time progresses, and once stellar performance reviews become increasingly more negative, even though the work hasn't changed.
Or, if you are looking for employment, you may hear code words signifying “you are too old,” like “you have too much experience for the position.” These are all signs of age discrimination, but, did you know there is federal protection for older workers?
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) applies to both employees and job applicants.
- The ADEA prohibits age discrimination in many aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, layoffs, pay, benefits, promotions, demotions, and performance reviews
- Age discrimination starts as early as age 40, and the ADEA protects anyone 40 years of age and older.
- Under the ADEA an employer can't mention age or say that a certain age is preferred in job postings and, while questionable, it is not illegal for them to ask for your birth date or year of graduation on an application.
However, age discrimination can sometime be hard to prove. It bears finding out if your case has merit by contacting a law firm that specializes in employment issues like wrongful termination or age discrimination. Firms like Barrett and Farahany in Atlanta can help determine if you have a case and help you fight it If you were fired or not hired, or feel that you were discriminated against because of your age, speak to an attorney. You could be entitled to back pay, reinstatement to employment, and other damages against the company.
Ageism is a very serious issue in this country, and there is a lot of work to be done so we can put this profound bias against older people behind us. It takes recognizing that there is an issue, and then taking steps to help deal with it. From educating school children to diversity training in corporations, we need to learn to understand and appreciate the older generation and offer more positive representation of them, if for no other reason than, one day, we all will be them.
Contact us today to speak with an attorney!