Age Discrimination in the Workplace

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hour glassWhen the Industrial Age gave way to the Information Age, young college graduates became the new experts. Turning 40 meant facing a new reality: out with the old, in with the new.

Now there are laws to protect older workers. Even so, age discrimination accounts for 20 percent of all complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

There are ways older workers can overcome age discrimination, but first you need to know how to recognize it.

What Age Discrimination Looks Like

In 2003, IBM lost a lawsuit after changing its pension plan from one that favored long-term (and generally older) employees to one that would avoid larger payouts to employees with seniority.

In 2010, Kmart was sued when a store manager told a 70-year-old pharmacist that she was “too old,” “should just retire,” and was “greedy” because she kept working at her age. Kmart paid $120,000 to settle the suit.

In 2011, 3M was ordered to pay $3 million to 290 employees over the age of 45 whose jobs were eliminated. Memos were found stating that the company intended to “tap youth” for leadership positions, and that “we should be developing 30-year-olds” for management.

How to Avoid Age Discrimination

To prevent age discrimination, keep your skills, appearance, and vocabulary up-to-date.

“Older workers … need to be lifelong learners,” Laurie McCann, a senior attorney with the AARP Foundation, said. “You need to continue to dress currently and maintain your fitness level. You don’t want to play into the stereotype that you’re not adaptable.”

The EEOC occasionally sponsors free job re-education programs, as do some states and communities. Other resources include:

  • Trade journals and blogs. Trade journals talk about the latest technologies and processes. Many industry and professional organizations have blogs. Your boss is reading them, and you should be, too.
  • Continuing education (CE). Professions like nursing and teaching require ongoing CE courses. Even if your job doesn’t require it, taking a CE course may help you stay on par with younger new hires.
  • Community colleges and technical institutes. For $40-$60 per credit, you can take courses in almost any field, or even get a degree or certification in a new field. Some employers offer reimbursement for tuition and fees.
  • Private job education and training. If your employer offers professionally delivered courses in-house, take advantage. If your manager specifically suggests a course for you, don’t take offense. Take the course. It may mean keeping your job or being eligible for a promotion.

What to Do if Age Discrimination Affects You

If you are experiencing age discrimination in the workplace, your options are:

  • Keep records. Write down names, dates, times, and exactly what happened, including the exact words that were spoken in a discriminatory manner, in case you decide to file a complaint. Also keep copies of your annual reviews.
  • Take action. For free instructions on filing a complaint with the EEOC, call 1-800-669-4000 (voice) or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY), or visit Charges must be filed within 180 days of the incident(s) you are reporting. The EEOC will make a ruling, and you can take the matter to court with or without EEOC support.
  • Quit. Your company’s loss of talent, experience, and wisdom could be another organization’s gain.

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