Age discrimination is so prevalent in the United States that we’ve become accustomed to it. If you walk into any Hallmark store and go to the birthday card section, you will see dozens of cards about aging. “Turning 50 is something we all must face sooner or later. You sooner, me later.” If you go to Macy’s and head to Cosmetics, you will see hundreds of products designed to minimize and hide the effects of aging. If you turn on the television, you will see show after show depicting young, beautiful people leading fun and exciting lives. When older people are displayed, they are stereotyped based on age; think Martin Crane on Frasier, Dana Carvey’s “Grumpy Old Man” on SNL, or Abraham Simpson on The Simpsons.
Age is one of the first characteristics we notice about other people, and ageism is the most socially condoned form of discrimination in America. Research shows older people are stereotyped as warm but incompetent and are viewed in about the same way as people consider the mentally disabled.
Ageist stereotypes include perceptions that older workers are nags, unable to change, forgetful, unproductive, decrepit, cranky, weak, verbose, cognitively slow, sleepy, and unhappy. These stereotypes are the cognitive precursors to termination decisions based on age.
If you are over 40 years of age, have been a good performer and have suddenly found yourself out of a job, you may be a victim of age discrimination in employment. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees over the age of 40 age discrimination. Age discrimination can include situations where:
If any of these things have happened to you on the job, you may have suffered age discrimination.
Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their age concerning any term, condition, or privilege of employment — including, but not limited to, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. As a result, the following practices are also illegal:
Under the ADEA, there has to be a valid reason — not related to age — for all employment decisions. Examples of good reasons include poor job performance or an employer’s economic trouble. In the case of layoffs, a company cannot use age as the basis for determining who is laid off and who is kept on. Suppose most people who are laid off are 40 or older, and the majority of workers kept on are younger. In that case, there may be a basis for an ADEA complaint or lawsuit, especially if the employer has hired younger workers to take the places of workers over 40.
A valid reason other than age a company may use to justify hiring a younger worker is that the younger worker has less experience and a lower salary history and may be willing to work in the same job for a lower salary than the older worker. If the company bases the hiring decision on this reason, it is not illegal. However, an older worker cannot be terminated because the company, either currently or shortly, will be required to pay retirement or more costly insurance benefits (see the next section).
Victims of age discrimination can recover remedies, including:
Remedies also may include payment of:
An employer may be required to post notices to all employees addressing the violations of a specific charge and advising them of their rights under the laws EEOC enforces and their right to be free from retaliation. Such notices must be accessible, as needed, to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading. The employer may also be required to take corrective or preventive actions to cure the source of the identified discrimination, minimize the chance of its recurrence, and discontinue the specific discriminatory practices involved in the case. State law may allow for more powerful or different remedies than federal law. For more information, see this page on state age discrimination laws.
Older workers routinely experience age discrimination in the workplace.