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What does age discrimination look like in the workplace?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2024 | Employment Law

As a whole, the U.S. population is aging – and so is its workforce. Older people are returning to the workforce in record numbers, while others are simply staying longer.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed a lot of people’s notions about age and the value of a few gray hairs and some extra years. In a culture that’s arguably “youth-obsessed,” aging workers often face discrimination on the job.

Examples of age discrimination at work

Discrimination against older workers can happen at any stage of the employment process, from hiring to firing and all steps in between. Some common examples include:

  • Tilted hiring practices: Companies may subtly discourage older workers from applying by using coded language in their ads, like “young and dynamic” or “digital native” to indicate they’re interested only in the young.
  • Stifled advancement: Despite being equally (or more) qualified as other workers, older employees may find themselves passed over for promotions or key projects because their employer sees them as “too close to retirement” to be worth an investment.
  • Denied opportunities: Older workers may be surprised to find that their company offers all the new training opportunities to the young – especially if it’s just assumed that the older workers are automatically less adaptable to new technology or resistant to change.
  • Biased performance reviews: Managers may unfairly evaluate older employees, focusing disproportionately on their perceived deficiencies related to ageist stereotypes while overlooking their contributions to the team.
  • Reassignment: Older workers are sometimes quietly forced out of their jobs through a series of increasingly onerous demotions, reassignments or shifts in schedule.
  • Layoffs and termination: Some employers try to disguise their discrimination as a necessary adjustment in the workforce – but they lay off only the older workers on a team, keeping the new (younger) hires.

Both the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibit employers from discriminating against workers who are 40 years of age and older – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. If you’ve been victimized, it may be time to find out more about your legal options.