How Can I Recognize Ageism in the Workplace?

Looking Out for Telltale Signs of Age Discrimination

Ageism is an unfortunate and insidious type of discrimination that can quietly seep into the workplace. It can be less obvious than other more blatant varieties of discrimination, and many stereotypes work to keep negative assumptions alive.

Ageism can involve prejudice toward any age, meaning it can apply to young workers in addition to aging professionals. Perhaps an employer refuses to give a younger employee chances despite their track record, commitment, and obvious talent. However, a grand majority of age discrimination cases center on employees as they grow older.

If you are an aging professional who worries you are not being given the same opportunities and consideration as younger employees, it is important to recognize when and how ageism occurs in the workplace. Below, we cover some of the signs of ageism, both subtle and more obvious, as well as how you should go about productively battle harmful behaviors.

Uncomfortable Remarks Regarding Your Age

This can be one of the most obvious and dispiritingly common forms of ageism in a workplace, especially in “loose” or “casual” office environments. If you are older, colleagues or even your boss may make comments referencing your ability to use technology, complete tasks efficiently, or remember things accurately. They might also constantly joke about your hypothetical retirement plans or, even worse, your supposedly impending death. None of these comments, even if made in jest, are acceptable, and all are forms of ageism.

Isolation from Other Employees

If you work on a team, you should generally not be deliberately excluded from group meetings, assignments, or activities. If you notice you are not being invited to company-sponsored events or activities, or even if you notice the rest of your team – made up of younger employees – continue to meet without involving you, there may be ageism afoot. Keep in mind that one or two omissions may be the result of an honest mistake, but if you are repeatedly excluded, age discrimination could be a factor.

Being Omitted from Challenging or High-Profile Assignments

Age discrimination can play a part in not assigning tougher or important assignments to older employees. Sometimes there will be some excuse if challenged, such as “We want you to take it easy” or “We need this done quickly.” The implication is that as an older employee you are incapable of taking on and efficiently completing significant tasks. Remember that your age brings you years of institutional knowledge and experience that younger employees might not necessarily have and should not be willfully excluded from assignments you are qualified to complete.

Being Excluded from Continued Education Opportunities

Many larger companies offer opportunities for employees to continue their education through sponsored programs, either through conferences, reimbursements for classwork, or internal tracks to assist employees with career growth. These types of opportunities should be extended to all employees. If you notice bulletins surrounding these programs are only being sent to or discussed with younger employees, age discrimination may be occurring. An employer should not be exclusively offering growth opportunities to its younger employees, as the assumption is the money or resources are not worth spending on aging professionals.

Denial of Raises or Promotions

Employers often have a great deal of wiggle room to plausibly deny claims of age discrimination in this area, but that does not mean it does not happen. Sometimes, employers will only extend raises or promotions to younger employees they seek to keep within the company. The company may be trying to foster the entirety of a young employee’s development but continuously overlook older professionals who are also seeking to advance. Even worse, some companies will withhold promotions or raises to pressure an employee into either leaving the company or retiring. However, it is possible that not being selected for promotions or raises is related to job performance relative to your peers. If your work quality is similar to that of your colleagues, however, and you are still continuously ignored, ageism may be occurring.

Hiring Only Young Employees

If you notice your company has a persistent habit of hiring exclusively younger employees, age discrimination may be involved. There can be perceptions that older employees are not worth the cost of their years of experience, that they will be less efficient, or that they will burn out faster. They may also be trying to foster a certain type of younger, hipper social environment that they believe older employees will upset. All of these stereotypes can feed into a toxic culture where only younger hires are encouraged, which can lead to further isolation and discrimination for aging professionals in the workplace.

Being Pressured to Retire

Very few industries are permitted to institute a mandatory retirement age. As such, you are generally under no obligation to retire, even as you get older and your salary expectations grow. Some employers seeking to cut payroll costs often target older employees because of their larger pay and will attempt to offer generous retirement packages. While there is nothing unlawful about offering a retirement package, an employer cannot pressure or threaten you into accepting one. The practice can cross into age discrimination, however, if an employer attempts to fire or dismiss you – despite strong job performance – after you decline a retirement package.

Being Fired and Replaced by a Younger Employee Under a Different Title

This action can be depressingly common. You may be informed that, through no fault of your own and despite strong work performance, your position at the company is being eliminated. However, you may later learn that a new position has subsequently been created, one filled by a younger employee with suspiciously many of the same job responsibilities. While the title is different, the job is functionally the same, and you have been de facto replaced by a younger employee (often with a lower salary). If the new position with a younger employee is effectively doing the same job that you were doing in the “eliminated” position, you may have been the victim of age discrimination.

Layoffs or Firings Exclusively or Predominantly Targeting Older Employees

Layoffs can occur in various scopes for any number of reasons, but there is cause for alarm if they appear to be largely or entirely targeting a workforce’s older employees. As we mentioned above, employers tasked with reducing payroll will often focus on employees with large salaries – which, in many industries, means older employees with years or even decades of institutional knowledge. In many ways, this can be similar to forced retirement. However, employers are often aware of the scrutiny they will be under and will include several younger employees in each layoff wave to avoid suspicion. You may need the help of an experienced employment lawyer to assist you in documenting and proving age discrimination in these cases.

Do You Suspect You Are a Victim of Age Discrimination? We Can Help.

No one should have to experience the frustrating and embarrassing consequences of ageism in the workplace. If you noticed a pattern of discrimination or believe your recent dismissal may have been the result of ageism, you should immediately get in touch with our team at Marder Employment Law. Attorney Bill Marder has been fighting for employee rights for over 25 years and is prepared to assist you in your age discrimination case.

Get the support you deserve in fighting age discrimination. Contact us online or dial (888) 796-4010 to get started.

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