Companies are using several tactics to eliminate older workers. Although there are supposed to be protections for discriminating against older people in the workplace, most employers use common methods to eliminate people that are over 4o. Just because it might not be exactly legal for a company to reduce its aging workforce, this doesn’t mean it won’t happen and occur often.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is theoretically assumed to protect people 40 years of age and older from employment discrimination but like many laws, it really doesn’t live up to the reason it was created. If you are an older person in the workplace, you need to know the Age Discrimination Act is not going to protect you. Companies and their Human Resource Departments have several techniques at their disposal to phase out older employees.
How do you know if you are the target of being eliminated at work due to your age?
What can you do to protect yourself from age discrimination in the workplace?
Workplace discrimination is worse than you might believe
Even though the age discrimination law states it is unlawful to discriminate against a person for compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of a worker’s age, age-based discrimination is common. A survey by AARP discovered the following as it relates to discrimination based on age in the workplace:
- 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers.
- 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
- 76 percent of the older workers surveyed saw age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job.
It’s not just getting let go from an employer when age discrimination occurs but also during the hiring process. The recent pandemic has only made the situation much worse with an increase in the number of age discrimination complaints. Many employers will use the tools at their disposal to purge out older workers in favor of younger employees.
The protection of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act has not been doing what it was really designed to do like so many employment laws falsely in place. This is certainly confirmed by the courts increasingly favoring businesses over workers in the case of age discrimination lawsuits. Employers are using many of the same actions, deceptions, and behaviors to gain favor in the court system when a former employee brings a valid argument to court for age discrimination.
What common methods do employers use to eliminate older employees?
Although companies are supposed to provide a list of employees that are included in a layoff, they use certain methods to make it look like they did not discriminate based on age. These layoffs will include a few sacrificial people under 40 years of age and they will often target certain job titles or departments.
What you need to understand about a layoff is it almost always occurs for cost-cutting measures. Older employees are many times paid more money than their younger co-workers. A layoff is used to cut overhead expenses so it only makes sense for a company to target older workers even though there are laws that should protect this.
In a previous corporate job, I believe I was the target of age discrimination along with the salary I was paid. My immediate supervisor even commented that letting me go did not make sense. I was the most productive in the department and the highest-paid. Someone likely looked at a balance sheet and just saw my position as a dollar sign and age. Subsequently, I was included in the layoff.
A Job Elimination
Frequently the excuse of eliminating a position or role is used to discriminate against an employee based on their age. A company will tell an older worker the job they do is no longer of need and the position is being eliminated. The truth in this situation is the position is seldom just eliminated.
Job elimination when discriminating against older workers regularly just becomes the role of another employee or a job title is changed that takes on the same responsibilities. The new position is almost always for a younger person. Companies use the excuse of job elimination because it can be difficult to prove age discrimination using this justification.
Pay and Hour Reduction
Reducing an older employee’s paycheck or hours they work is a big way some employers will try to get rid of older workers. No one wants to go back when it comes to progressing in a career field and this includes the salary. This should not make reductions in hours or pay as a surprising tactic that some companies will use to have older employees leave on their own.
One of the big advantages of reducing an older worker’s pay is often they might think about leaving on their own. This makes it much more difficult to prove any type of age discrimination when a person decides to leave a company on their own behalf. Employers know this and use it to their advantage.
Job Responsibilities Removed or Demotion
Removing an older person’s responsibilities, authority, or demoting them can push them out of a job. Just like no one wants to take a salary cut later in their career they also generally do not want to take a lower position. Doing this can be a humiliating experience for some people and they will choose not to do it. Thus, a worker that is demoted will often leave a company on their own. This is many times the objective for the employer.
Opportunities No Longer Exist
Most people want to have opportunities available to them in the workplace. This includes advancements and promotions in addition to higher pay. Although it is illegal to deny someone an advancement based solely on age in the workplace, this once again happens quite frequently to get rid of older people in a business.
Opportunities at work can be minimal for people of all ages but this is another approach some employers will use specifically to phase out older people. The reason once again is when opportunities no longer exist at an employer many people make the decision to leave on their own. Therefore, it is a popular choice to eliminate opportunities for older people in the workplace in order to get rid of them without being accused of age discrimination.
Incompetent or Unable To Do a Job Well
Although most employers would prefer older workers to leave on their own in most instances to avoid any age discrimination problems, they do have tools at their disposal when an aging employee does not decide to exit. This includes building a case against an older person to prove they are no longer good at their job.
Putting together a justification for getting rid of an older worker just for the sake of their age can take some time. However, this is something that is done when an employer cannot get rid of an older employee in their organization by pushing them out and having that person leave on their own.
If an older employee starts to get bad performance reviews, reprimanded or written up for a poor job after several years of a good record, this can be a sign the company is trying to push that person out. What you need to know in this situation is the Human Resource Department is not your friend. They will be helping the employer to build that case to let an older employee go. There are several misconceptions about HR departments and being an employee advocate is one of them.
Exiled to Isolation
Another method some employers will use to get older workers to leave on their own is to isolate them. Cutting older workers out of projects, meetings and lunches can leave a person feeling like they are not a part of the team. No one wants to feel this way each day they go into work and employers know this.
A company I once worked for would assign people to something called “Special Projects.” It seemed that regularly a worker that made it to this department would shortly no longer be with the company. It became known that if you get assigned to “Special Projects” you would shortly no longer have a job. The company would either make it so you would want to leave on your own or they would ensure eventually a worker would be shown the door.
No one wants to be harassed, bullied, or made fun of at any age. Jokes related to older workers referring to how they might be senile or out of touch can push older employees to leave a company. Realistically harassment based on age should not be tolerated in the workplace. However, it does happen.
Some people would recommend a formal complaint to a company’s Human Resource Department when inappropriate age harassment persists. Yet, the truth is this will not likely help if a company is trying to get rid of an older worker. Furthermore, if a company isn’t looking to let go of an aging employee that does make a formal complaint to HR, that employee might now be viewed as a problem. This will only make an older person a target to either make them want to leave on their own or build a solid performance case to get rid of them.
Want to Retire Early?
Early retirement package offers are used as an enticement to try and get older employees to retire sometimes. These are often set up to be hard for an older person to turn down. At the very least with an early retirement offer, a company is not trying to get rid of an aging worker by some of the other methods mentioned that are certainly less than either ethical or legal.
If you are an older person in the workplace and get an offer of an early retirement package, you should consider it cautiously. The problem is if the employer is indeed trying to phase out older workers and you don’t take their early retirement package you might be the target of another elimination method that does not have any benefits.
How can older people protect themselves from workplace age discrimination?
Even though the odds are really against aging people in the workplace when it comes to discrimination based on age and not eventually being a target, there are some things that can be done for protection. At the very least, most people working for someone else should plan for the worst and hope for the best as they start to get older in the working world.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 really isn’t honestly much protection for most people. It is important to start planning for age discrimination early in the workplace and consistently work on improving this position in a career field.
Save Your Money and Invest
I can’t stress enough how important it is to save money at any point in a career. Knowing how frequent age discrimination truly occurs in the workplace is particularly important. Saving money early in a career and continuing to do so on an ongoing basis can build a financial safety net as a person ages in the working world. I realize the challenge this presents to a lot of people today. But making sacrifices now can provide security later.
Saving money and investing can create choices later in a career if a person is the target of age discrimination. A real problem is most people don’t start making more money until they reach the age of 40 or 50. Just the time to be phased out of a job due to age.
Carefully consider the possessions needed at a young age and the financial choices that are made. Driving a new car or competing with people for financial status is not going to help in the future. Money will not solve every problem but it can make it a little easier to deal with them. This includes being discriminated against for being a certain age.
Take advantage of any employer retirement plan or pension that can be a benefit. Furthermore, put some money away in investments that can be accessed without penalty before reaching the age of retirement. Workplace age discrimination is said to start around 40 years old today. This leaves several years before reaching retirement in the eyes of the government to collect social security and access a tax-deferred 401k or IRA without penalty.
Start Your Own Business
If there is one piece of advice for older people in the workplace or even younger workers, it’s to start your own business. Even if you are working a full-time job, look for ways to start a part-time business of your own. Try and choose something that will be able to grow over time. It might be something that you do not make a lot of money with now but has the potential to replace a full-time job. Pick a business that you enjoy and this will ensure you do not give up on it.
The only way to truly protect yourself from losing the income from an employer you depend on is to not rely on it. The older a person gets the likelihood increases of being discriminated against based on age in the workplace. Having a business of your own to fall back on in the future is good insurance.
Saving money and investing mentioned in the previous protection against age discrimination at work can also lead to a business. You might not have the money early in your career to start the business of your dreams. However, if you save your money and get laid off in your 40’s you might have the financial backing to finally be your own boss for the next 20 or 30 years.
Having your own business and source of income that you do not need to rely on an employer for is the best protection against being discriminated against in the workplace based on age.
Document Age Discrimination
I know some readers of this article will be thinking the best defense against age discrimination in the working world is to document the problem at a company. Thus, the end goal is many times to bring a lawsuit against an employer for discriminating against an employee based on age. I understand the thinking behind this and what appears to be in the interest of financial security. However, the odds are against winning an age discrimination suit, and even if successful it can often backfire.
Honestly, I didn’t even want to mention documenting age discrimination and pursuing legal action because the probability of success is not good. Moreover, even if a financial settlement is reached with a former employer for age discrimination, the reward is almost always not enough.
Going to court is costly and this includes going after an employer for age discrimination. The financial gain just isn’t typically worth it. The money will come in handy in the short-term but the future will be damaged in many instances. Employers talk and particularly people in the same industry. If you go after an employer for age discrimination legally, a future potential company you want to work for just might not hire you based on knowing this. People talk and if you are labeled as trouble it could hurt future employment chances.
The other issue with building a case for age discrimination and reporting a problem to a company’s Human Resource Department is retaliation. Yes, it would probably be illegal. But don’t think employers do not retaliate. They will build their case against someone they believe might file suit against them in the future. They will do this to protect themselves and they will likely look for ways to terminate the problem.
The real issue with documenting age discrimination problems with a company is it almost always requires a formal complaint to be on record with them. Once this is done, the reporter becomes a target to be fired or laid off.
It doesn’t hurt to document age discrimination problems at a job, but you need to know you are up against the professionals that defend against these problems on a regular basis. Most companies and business owners are pros in defending against discrimination. It will take much more than just documentation on your own to likely win an age discrimination lawsuit.
Age discrimination in the workplace is real. It happens more frequently than most people would either like to believe or admit. Although laws exist that should encourage employers to not discriminate against older workers, many of them choose to do it anyway. The reason for this is they have the tools, experience, and knowledge to often get away with it.
Aging people in the workplace can often see a clear message when they might be the target of losing their job due to age discrimination. However, it can often be a challenge to accept it might be occurring. There are common strategies employers will use to discriminate based on age and these should not be ignored when they do occur.
Bringing a lawsuit against a company for employment age discrimination might be possible but people need to know the odds of winning are stacked against them. Even if successful for a modest financial reward, it can damage a worker’s chances for any future employment before they are ready to retire.
The best defense against workplace age discrimination for older people is to prepare financially early in a career. Save money for the future. Invest for the possibility of being phased out of an industry and job at an older age because the chances are good it might happen.
Don’t depend on an employer for your future. Plan for it yourself by starting your own business or saving the money to retire early if needed. This is the best protection against age discrimination in the working world. Laws, rules, and regulations for discriminating against aging people in the workplace aren’t likely to save anyone. These are a nice concept but do very little to stop employers from discriminating against older people.