Discrimination against baby boomers is a real problem for U.S. workers. Insperity reports that 25% of discrimination claims are related to ageism. That figure represents a significant number of senior workers which is growing as boomers realize they have not saved enough money to retire. Forbes reports the U.S. Department of Labor’s prediction that 1 out of every 4 people in the workplace will be at least 55 years old by the year 2024.
How Is Age Discrimination Defined Legally?
EEOC defines age discrimination as any time a job candidate or employee is treated less favorably because of their age, specifically when workers 40 years old or older are negatively impacted. The 1967 law entitled, The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed to protect mature workers. By law, discrimination and harassment that targets a worker’s age is prohibited.
Examples of Ageism
While supervisors are typically the most likely person to discriminate, they are definitely not the only ones. EEOC points out that co-workers, customers, clients, and supervisors from other departments also victimize many baby boomers by discriminating against them.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission recognizes different types of discrimination. Direct discrimination is easy to recognize. When an employee is treated worse based on an obvious age bias, then that is considered direct discrimination. A good example of this type of action would be not allowing an older worker to participate in training simply because they are older.
Indirect discrimination, as the name suggests, is less straightforward and oftentimes unintentional. An example of indirect discrimination might be when a company requires a specific degree that was not available 20 years earlier. This type of requirement discriminates against older workers who completed their formal education prior to the availability of the required degree.
It is noteworthy that both direct and indirect discrimination are permissible in cases where the organization can show a good reason for the policy in question. This type of explanation to justify discrimination in specific cases is known as objective justification.
Harassment is another type of age discrimination. It is defined as any time an employee is subjected to behavior designed to humiliate or offend them. An example of age discrimination that fits into the harassment realm would be if a trainer singles out an older employee by commenting about how slow they are to learn a new software package.
The fourth type of age discrimination is Victimization. This happens when a person is mistreated because they made a formal complaint about age discrimination. This type of discrimination also targets supportive allies who side with the party asserting the charge.
Strategies for Mature Workers to Avoid Ageism in the Workplace
Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent stereotyping that often leads to ageism. With that said, there are proven strategies that any baby boomer can employ to reduce the probability of facing this type of problem.
1. Make the commitment to grow professionally and do whatever it takes to excel.
2. Stay on top of new trends relevant to your company, industry and chosen profession.
3. Nurture a relationship with a mentor.
4. Approach your career with the same vigor and professionalism as your younger coworkers.
5. Resist sharing stories about “the good old days.”
6. Make a commitment to master and champion new technology and fresh ideas.
7. Don’t spotlight your age or your coworkers’ youth in office conversation.
What Baby Boomers Can Do If They Experience Ageism
When seniors in the workplace feel as if they are the victims of discrimination, it is imperative to keep detailed notes with dates and the names of witnesses who can verify the events. Then consult with an employment lawyer.
Based on the advice received from an employment lawyer, a claim can be filed against the employer. Due to the expense involved both financially and emotionally, it makes sense to talk to your family prior to making a decision about whether to pursue a legal remedy.
AARP recommends taking into consideration the uphill battle that most discrimination cases become. Discrimination cases are typically difficult to win.
A better alternative in many cases is to use the company’s grievance system first before filing a formal complaint legally. When there is strong evidence, many employers are willing to settle directly with victims to avoid the substantial legal costs and bad press that often accompanies employee complaints.
If the employer won’t settle, the first step that must be taken prior to filing a lawsuit is to file a charge with the EEOC. It is recommended that a charge be filed within 180 days. They can be contacted at 800-669-4000. The EEOC website provides instructions about how to file a charge.
After the charge is officially filed, EEOC investigates and attempts to encourage the employer to remedy the situation. In the event the employer is not receptive, the EEOC can take legal action. It is important to mention that this rarely happens.
If EEOC doesn’t pursue actions against the company that discriminated, the victim can still pursue a case using an employment lawyer to represent them.
Discrimination is a serious problem faced by many baby boomers remaining in the workplace. While it is always a good idea to fully understand what warrants discrimination and how to file a formal complaint, preventing discrimination in the first place is preferable.