Age Discrimination: The Silent Shame

by squizzard41

Over 100 million people in the United States are over the age of 50 yet 44% of jobless workers, unemployed for over a year, are age 55 or older.

I was on an AARP forum recently where the discussion centered around age discrimination in relation to older workers. One comment, in particular, raised my hackles. The commentator stated basically that older employees were selfish because they were hanging onto jobs and making it harder for the younger generation to get a job or to move up in the ranks to obtain a higher paying job. The summary was the value of the older employee was waning and not equal to that of the younger ones who are evidently chomping at the bit to get the good jobs we are greedily hanging onto. Unfortunately, not only was the statement incendiary to older workers but it is patently false. It is a myth which has been spread along the lines until it has become a kind of truth. Myths about older people in the work force prevent many from obtaining employment even when they are supposedly protected from discrimination based on their age.

The Impotence of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Does the Law Really Work?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is a federal law specifically designed to protect people over 40 from employment discrimination in the workplace. It applies to businesses employing over 20 people, employment agencies, federal, state and local government, and labor organizations with over 25 members. Additionally, most states have their own age discrimination laws which are more stringent than the federal law. The Workplace Fairness site lists the states and their laws in addition to steps to take in case you feel you have been discriminated against. 

The ADEA prohibits many actions including asking your age outright, age specific questions, setting age limits for jobs or forcing an employee to retire. Unfortunately, while not illegal, many companies looking to hire for a position will often use date of birth, graduation dates or job histories to determine the age of a prospective employee. 

Many older workers looking for a job will often express their belief they weren't hired based on their age but sadly failure to hire cases are notoriously difficult to prove. Unless a prospective employer states outright your age disqualified you, you just have to move on and look elsewhere.



Stereotypes and Older Workers

How Myths Affect Hiring Decisions

Many employers have bought into the myths surrounding older employees and base their hiring practices on these perceptions. Stereotypes such as older workers take more sick days, they aren't as flexible or adaptable, they aren't as productive, they aren't as technologically savvy as younger workers, or they aren't as creative or innovative all come into play when an prospective older applicant is being considered. However, if the educated hiring professional truly examined the facts they would see they are doing their business a disservice by not considering the older employee.

According to a Department of Labor report titled, "Employer Strategies for Responding to an Aging Workforce", the following qualities of older workers were listed as admired by management--experience, judgment, commitment to quality, low turnover, good attendance, and punctuality. In addition, a 2009 Sloan Report, "The Current Economic Crisis and Unemployment in the Multi-Generational Workforce", states hiring managers gave older employees high marks for reliability, loyalty and productivity. 

Older employees, between the ages of 45-54, stay twice as long on a job versus those in the 25-34 group. Lower turnover, among older workers, outweighs the potential costs of pension and vacation time. It takes more money to recruit, hire and train a new employee especially if they only stay on the job 1-2 years.

Technological expertise is considered another black mark against older workers but the facts prove individuals in the 50+ age demographic are more engaged with the internet, are learning new computer skills and software, and are more adaptable to technology changes. 

Fighting Back Against Age Discrimination

What Can You Do?

Short of staging an "Old Lives Matter" protest, what can an older worker facing an uphill battle against unfair stereotypes do?

First, you can try to change the perceptions employers have about an aging work force. Instead of focusing on your achievements, emphasize how you can solve a problem or issue the company is facing. In her article, "The Ugly Truth About Age Discrimination," Liz Ryan suggests demonstrating how you can improve or solve a problem. "...if you know what business pain you solve and can talk to hiring managers about that pain, they can’t afford to care how old you are." This is where your years of experience trump the novelty of the young worker. You've been there and done that so you can save them time and money.

Secondly, if you can prove you have been blatantly overlooked for a job position because of your age you can talk to an attorney and file a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). These complaints are taken very seriously by this government agency and are pursued aggressively. You can see examples of pending and resolved cases on their website, "Selected List of Pending and Resolved Cases Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)." Cases like Central Freight Lines:  "The Commission alleged that a class of employees was discriminated against based on age. The EEOC alleges that Defendant used a reduction-in-force as a ruse to fire eight dockworkers, some of whom had worked at the company for 20 or more years and were approximately 50 years old and older. Defendant subjected this class of workers to names like "grandpa," "old farts" and "old bastards." Eventually, the company replaced the class of workers with younger hires. Case settled for $400,000 in monetary relief and injunctive (sic) relief."

Thirdly, don't give up. Many people facing a difficult job hunt because of their age often resign their search and end up tapping into retirement funds or taking early Social Security and minimize their benefits. Perceptions and stereotypes won't change if we aren't in the forefront of fighting for age discrimination to end.

Resources On Age Discrimination

Books to Review
Age Discrimination in the American Workplace: Old at a Young Age

Nearly every middle-aged and older worker, at some time during his or her career, will suffer age discrimination in the workplace. Employers too often use early-retirement plans...

View on Amazon

Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace

This groundbreaking book explains why so many workers in their 40s, 50s and beyond are out of work, laboring in part-time or temp jobs and struggling to survive. Age discriminat...

View on Amazon

Updated: 11/06/2015, squizzard41
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frankbeswick on 11/11/2015

One problem is that people cannot get age right. Today a lovely young doctor whom I was consulting apologized for being patronizing, as she felt obliged to say that my age might be behind a currently minor medical problem. I had to tell her that I did not feel remotely patronized and I knew that she would have to bring up the age issue.

squizzard41 on 11/10/2015

That's outrageous! I know plenty of people 30+ who have vitality and youth than 20 somethings. It is an insidious prejudice and very difficult to prove unless you have it in writing or file a class action suit.

frankbeswick on 11/10/2015

I once applied to change departments at work, only for my application to be rejected on the grounds that the governors, who gave the job to a twenty four year old woman , wanted youth and vitality. I was thirty seven!

squizzard41 on 11/10/2015

Thank you, Carley! I guess when I was younger I never considered I would have an issue with this but now that I'm in the "older" demographic I'm finding it is a real thing.

CarleyClagg on 11/10/2015

How ridiculous that age discrimination is a real thing in today's society! I don't understand why people would complain about older people wanting to work, as if they don't have rights like everyone else. We should respect our elders, not diminish them.

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