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Age Discrimination in the Workplace

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For workers over 40, one of the most prolific of all discriminatory practices is age discrimination. Deemed as too old, too experienced or too close to retirement by interviewers, it can be challenging to break into the workforce as you age. Promotions and career advancements can be difficult to attain and some older workers may feel as though the company or organization they work for shows preferential treatment towards their younger, less experienced counterparts. Knowing your rights and understanding what to do if you experience age discrimination will help you navigate more effectively through the interview and employment process.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects certain applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. The ADEA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)”. In other words, employers cannot deny you a position you are qualified for, fire you or pay you less solely based on your age. Most states also have anti-age discrimination laws meant to enhance the federal protections already in place and some even go so far as to cover younger workers as well.

How can you tell if you are a victim of age discrimination? Perhaps you have been working in the same company for years, but were passed up for a promotion even though you are the most qualified candidate. Maybe that 25 year old that interviewed for the job right after you did got the offer, even though they have no experience and will need to be trained. These are just a couple of examples of obvious age discrimination, but sometimes it’s simply comments or jokes about your age.

If you see a pattern that the company is hiring only younger employees, or if you are turned down for a position that you apply for and see it given to a less-qualified younger employee, it may be a sign that the company is discriminating due to age. It’s difficult to prove that someone younger was hired instead of you based on their age, but there are some clues that may prove the theory. First, if there is a clear and evident pattern of only hiring younger employees then age is definitely a determining factor. They may not have a sign posted on the door, but simple observations will tell you if it is an age-diversified workplace or not.

Promotions are another sticky subject when it comes to age discrimination. It used to be that seniority and experience was rewarded with a higher paying, more powerful position. Some employers look at older workers as liabilities and are unwilling to allow advancement to supervisory positions. They seem to promote younger, very often less-competent individuals while passing up the years of experience offered by a more mature candidate.

If you’ve been turned down for a promotion in lieu of someone younger carefully consider whether or not it was an age-based, performance-based or experience-based decision. Performance and experience don’t always go hand-in-hand, you may have years of experience, but maybe you aren’t performing as well as you could. If your performance and experience are superior to the younger worker and they still get the promotion, there is a good chance that age was the most important determining factor.

If you feel that you have been the victim of age discrimination you have the legal right to file a claim against the company according to both state and federal law. Your case could be due to unfair hiring practices that favor younger workers and exclude older, more mature candidates. A claim could be filed due to being passed up for a promotion you were clearly qualified for, but that went to someone half your age. You can also file a claim if your employer or potential employer uses language that points out your age in a way that is negative with regards to your employment.

Before you file any claims outside of the company, make sure that you’ve followed the chain of command and procedures within the organization. Many times you can avoid the expense and time it takes to file a claim if you’ve documented every occasion of discrimination. Present your employer with the names, dates, times and locations of discriminatory acts as well as providing testimony from witnesses. Employers are much more likely to settle a claim if you can produce solid evidence that you were discriminated against based on your age.

If you do not get satisfaction from your employer, you can file a charge against them with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must do this before you can file a lawsuit. Keep in mind that you must file a claim within 180 days of the discriminatory action so do not procrastinate. Once they receive the complaint, the EEOC will launch an investigation. If they find you have a case, they will issue a “Right To Sue” document and you can then file a case in the court system. Even with all of the protections and procedures in place, it can take months or even years to get your day in court, so be aware, but don’t give up.

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The Modern Age – Age Discrimination in the Workplace

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