Have You Experienced Age Discrimination in the Workplace?

You’re a senior in your 50s or 60s. You’ve worked for the same employer for a number of years now.

Not only do you know how to do your job better than you ever did before. You also know how to do it better than anyone who could replace you.

But you’re hearing rumblings about the company “downsizing.” You’ve seen other employees in your age range “let go.” You need to continue working full-time to prepare for retirement. And to get health benefits.

One day as you’re busy at work, you’re told the boss wants to see you in her office. Your heart skips a beat. Is this the day you’ll be asked to clean out your desk?

Age Can Be a Workplace Obstacle

In the past, most Americans assumed that by the time they reached age 50, they’d have steady work. And more time to prepare for retirement.

Now, two of three American workers between 45 and 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination at work.

Job seekers over the age of 35 say age discrimination is their number one obstacle to getting hired.

Your chances of experiencing age discrimination could be even higher. Especially if you work in the high-tech or entertainment industries.

Study Paints an Ugly Picture

Recently the Social Security Administration and National Institute on Aging got together. They created a Health and Retirement Study.

They found that a majority of workers over age 50 are likely at some point to be shoved out of their jobs.

Either by a firing or a resignation under pressure of demotion. Or loss of future benefits or deteriorating work conditions.

The damage to these workers’ pockets is often permanent. It’s more difficult for older people to land another job. And if they do find new work, it is usually below their skill levels and what they should be compensated.

Kick or Nudge… Makes Little Difference

Richard Johnson is an Urban Institute economist and veteran scholar of the older labor force. He reported:

“This isn’t how most people think they’re going to finish out their work lives.

“For the majority of older Americans, working after 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than we previously thought.”

Gary Burtless is a labor economist with the Brookings Institution. He says 28 percent of longtime employees experience at least one damaging layoff between age 50 and retirement.

“We’ve known that some workers get a nudge from their employers to exit the workforce and some get a great big kick. What (our data) suggest is that a whole lot more are getting the great big kick.”

Tough to Prove in Court

Older Baby Boomers (approximately ages 64-72) feel the effects of age discrimination more than younger Baby Boomers (ages 55-63) do.

But younger Baby Boomers will be affected more when Social Security checks are reduced by close to 25 percent in 2034.

Americans 50 and older are doing very little to fight age discrimination. That’s according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

They are not putting pressure on politicians to change the landscape. Partly because age discrimination is difficult to prove in a courtroom.

10 Things to Know

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) provides facts about this topic. Here is their “10 Things You Should Know About Age Discrimination.”

  • Age discrimination is illegal at any stage of employment, including during hiring, promotions, raises and layoffs.
  • It is legal for employers and prospective employers to ask your age. As well as your graduation date. (AARP is working to strengthen protections against this line of inquiry.)
  • A 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it harder for older workers who’ve experienced proven age discrimination to prevail in court.
  • About 80 percent of Americans age 50 and older say they want Congress to create stronger laws to prevent age discrimination at work.
  • Most people believe age discrimination begins when workers hit their 50s. Twenty-two percent believe it begins earlier.
  • There’s also a gender difference in the percentage of age discrimination complaints. Seventy-two percent of women between ages 45-74 (but only 57 percent of men) say people face age discrimination at work.
  • Not getting hired is the most common type of age discrimination workers experience according to AARP.
  • You can take action by filing charges for age discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  • In 2016, the EEOC got 20,857 complaints of age discrimination. More than 20 percent of all complaints received by the EEOC are related to age discrimination.
  • Contrary to stereotypes, workers age 50 and older are among the most engaged members of the workforce.

Make Yourself Valuable to the Boss

To be fair, some older workers who say age discrimination have really been fired due to poor performance. Or have not been hired because they’re not qualified.

Others, of course, have a legitimate complaint. It’s good to know there is an option out there for those who believe they’ve been treated unfairly.

In the meantime, folks 50 and older who are employed should continue to work hard. And make themselves as valuable to their employers as possible.

That’s probably the best way to avoid being discriminated against due to one’s age.

What About You?

Have you ever experienced age discrimination at work?

Let us know your experiences in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

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