While there are laws in place to protect individuals’ 40-and-over in the workplace, it doesn’t always mean they are upheld.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there was a steep increase just as recently as 2009 in the number of age-related discrimination claims. In that year, the EEOC noted 22,778 age discrimination claims, close to a 38 percent uptick from only 16,548 three years earlier.
For those that do not know, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, passed in 1967, makes it against the law for businesses to discriminate against workers age 40 and older, whether they are seeking a new job or working in one they have been at for years.
When it comes to those older workers that have been at a company for a number of years, job security should not be taken for granted. According to a spokesperson for the AARP, “It would be nice to say age discrimination is a thing of the past, but it isn’t.” For those older employees with a steady position, they have good reasons for fearing the possibility of being replaced by a 20- or 30-year-old that is willing to work more hours for lower wages. In some cases, reports indicate that age discrimination is beginning even earlier than in the past, hitting some in their 40s or even their 30s.
So, how can you either as an older individual presently working or one that is out of work and searching for a job, better compete with the younger individuals that are more apt to work for less pay?
Among the ways to do this:
1. Keep your skills updated: As the Internet age continues to grow and encompass more jobs, it is important for older workers to stay up to speed on today’s technology. In those cases where an employer wants to pay you to take courses to enhance your skills, by all means take him or her up on their offer;
2. Don’t forget to network: This is especially important for those older individuals that find themselves out of work. Make sure you reach out to both friends and former employers you are on good terms with in order to see if they know of any job openings;
3. Document any discriminatory practices – It is important to keep a record of any matters you feel were discriminatory, either while working or doing your job search. This is important in order to prepare yourself for any potential legal case that may be pending. Make sure to include as much information as possible, talk to others that feel they too were discriminated against, and reach out to an attorney when you feel the time is right;
4. Document your work record – In the event an employer terminates and older worker, there should be solid reasoning behind the dismissal. If the worker has a good work performance, good attendance record, and is what would be considered “low-maintenance” around the office, it makes it more difficult for the employer to say they had a valid reason for the dismissal other than age;
5. Look for any surprising evaluations – If you have what could be considered a rather stellar record with your company, then suddenly start getting written up for minor infractions that younger workers are not, it can be a sign that the company is setting you up for a unwarranted dismissal or dip in salary in order to bring in younger workers;
6. Passed over and over again for promotions – Should you see cases where you are getting overlooked for justified promotions and pay raises while younger employees are moving up the corporate ladder, consider that a red flag. Find out why your experience and value to the company is being overlooked;
7. Are you training your successor? – It is not uncommon for companies to have there more experienced employees train the new arrivals. While that is fine and makes sense, keep an eye out if you are being set up for training your replacement. If that is the case, make sure to document the information so that you can show an attorney if necessary that you followed your employer’s instructions, yet were then essentially kicked out the door;
8. Read the want ads closely – If you are an older worker seeking work, be sure to read the help wanted ads carefully. Make sure the ads to not use language such as seeking “young” or “youthful.” If a prospective employer interviews you, listen closely to see if they ask any age-related questions.
While one would like to think that age discrimination does not truly exist in the workplace, there are too many examples of it being alive and well.
When all is said and done, both employer and employee need to work together to make sure that business both reward and respect those older workers who are true assets to their companies.