This post explores the topic of why age discrimination happens and how to handle it.

Denying qualified older workers of interview opportunities, job offers, fair compensation, and/or equal benefits is a significant and costly problem for individuals, their families, and the economy as a whole.

Common Forms of Workplace Age Discrimination

Age discrimination in the workplace is defined by EEOC as “treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age”. These are the most common forms of workplace age discrimination:

  • Refusal to extend interview offer or job offer (job applicants)
  • Discriminatory employment discharge (employees)
  • Forced mandatory retirement (employees)
  • Discriminatory denial of benefits (employees)

Why Workplace Age Discrimination Happens

These are the findings about why age discrimination happens, according to a 2018 EEOC report entitled ‘The State of Age Discrimination and Older Workers in the U.S. 50 Years After the Age Discrimination in Employment Act’.

The most persistent driver of age discrimination is an unfounded assumption that age negatively impacts one’s ability and/or performance. Despite decades of research proving otherwise, unfortunately, some employers still adhere to ageist stereotypes and engage in age discrimination.

Employment-related age discrimination occurs both knowingly and unknowingly. This conduct is committed by individual employees within an organization as well as at the organizational level itself.

Negative Impacts of Age Discrimination

Age discrimination in the workplace inflicts untold emotional trauma and financial harm on its victims.

Studies show that an older employee terminated from a job is likely to spend more time looking for new work than a younger counterpart. Likewise, if and when that individual secures new employment, it’s likely to be at a lower level of compensation and seniority than their last position.

In many cases, an older professional gives 30+ years to a single company, only to be shown the door upon reaching a certain age. This causes feelings of anger, betrayal, and resentment that may lead to mental health issues.

Employers engaging in age discrimination risk facing costly legal litigation while missing out on the benefits of building a multi-generational workforce.

Protections Against Age Discrimination

Back in the late 1960’s, in an effort to combat workplace ageism, the United States Congress passed ‘The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)’. ADEA requires employers to consider individual ability (rather than age-based assumptions) when making an employment decision.

Here are some high-level bullet points on ADEA’s protections against workplace age discrimination:

  • ADEA forbids age discrimination against people 40 years of age and older. Some US states have laws protecting younger workers from age discrimination.
  • ADEA covers all forms of employment-related discrimination including hiring, termination, compensation, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits, and more.
  • ADEA disallows age-related harassment in the workplace, including offensive or derogatory remarks which create a hostile or offensive work environment.
  • ADEA forbids employment policies or practices that apply to everyone, regardless of age, having a negative impact on applicants or employees 40 years old or more.
  • ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees.

Deciding How to Handle It

Unfortunately, age discrimination still happens. Often times it’s very difficult to prove too. If age is an insecurity for you, it’s important to take a step back and think about how best to handle your age concerns.

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to handling age discrimination. Own it. Or, mask it.

Owning it means being fully open and transparent about your age.

Masking it means proactively trying to conceal your age. Among other things, this involves building an ATS-friendly and visually appealing Resume that omits older information from your Resume.

Once you’ve philosophically decided how you want to handle this, you may begin to start taking action confidently.

Filing an Age Discrimination Claim

If you feel you have a valid age discrimination claim on your hands, the EEOC provides this article on How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination. You’ll probably also want to contact an employment attorney.

In Conclusion

Older workers should be evaluated based on their ability, experience, and commitment – NOT based on their age. As a job seeker or employee, you should be aware of what age discrimination is, how it works, and how to handle it.

I hope this article empowers you in your quest to avoid and/or overcome age discrimination in your life.