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What Does Age Discrimination Look Like in the Workplace?


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in 1967 to protect older workers from age-related discrimination on the job. It suffered a blow in 2009 when a Supreme Court ruling was made in the favor of employers, requiring plaintiffs in discrimination cases to shoulder the burden of proof. Despite this setback, ADEA still provides important protection to workers. Understanding what age discrimination looks like can be a challenge, however. Many workers may not seek their rightful protections if they don’t recognize discriminatory behavior against themselves or others. Here are several common examples of age discrimination in the workplace to help you recognize illegal behavior and take action to protect yourself and others.

1. Unwelcome Comments & Harassment

It’s not uncommon for employers or employees to make joking comments about a workers age, but if these comments are unwelcome, they are considered harassment. Take note of the incident, the date, who was involved, and if there were any witnesses. If there is a pattern to the comments, you’ll be able to file a claim for age discrimination. It doesn’t matter who is harassing you—it’s still illegal. If you’re hearing negative or uncomfortable comments from a superior, coworker, or even customer or client of your company, you may be able to take action.

Discrimination doesn’t have to affect your income to be considered illegal. When there are repeated incidences of unwanted comments, jokes, or other age-related commentary, it can create a hostile or offensive work environment. Harassment can even escalate to a demotion or termination if your work suffers because of the stress you are under. If you have experienced harassment at work due to your age, don’t let it get worse—call an experienced employment law attorney and begin the process of filing a claim.

2. Favoritism & Negative Comparisons

Employers can’t play favorites, legally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen. If you notice that younger workers are treated more favorably than older workers, your workplace may have a problem with age discrimination. When young employees with less experience keep their jobs, while older employees are laid off, or younger workers are included in the company more than older workers, it is a sign of age discrimination. Similarly, it also can be a sign of trouble when younger workers are granted better contracts, assignments, leads, territories, equipment, or even workspaces over older employees.

3. Inequitable Discipline

Are older employees more harshly punished for doing the same things that younger workers do, while the younger workers seem to get off scot-free? Are mistakes met with more harshness when made by an older employee than when made by a younger one? If either of the above is true, you may be experiencing or witnessing age discrimination in your workplace. Always take notes when you notice discrimination happening, in the event you or another person must file a claim.

4. Overlooked for Promotions

Being passed over for a promotion can be painful at any age, but it is even more so when you were overlooked because of your age. When older, better-qualified workers are ignored for a promotion in favor of a younger employee, it may be age discrimination to blame.

5. Not Being Hired

Similarly, when older, highly qualified workers are turned down for a job in favor of younger, less-qualified workers, it can be age discrimination.

6. Milestone Age Changes

Milestone birthdays can be meaningful events, but it’s not uncommon for workers to experience changes at work after passing age 40, 50, or 60. More negative comments in your performance reviews, your supervisors feeling a diminished confidence in your abilities, and other signs can signal age discrimination, too.

7. Policies & Procedures

Policies and procedures should apply to all workers, regardless of age. If there are reasonable factors, it may be permissible to alter some policies or procedures for certain age groups. There are laws in place that prohibit policies that negatively impact workers who are older than 40, unless there are reasonable factors other than age to make these policies necessary.

8. Age-Related Jobs

When advertising for a job, it is illegal for companies to post ads with an age preference, limitation, or specification, unless age is a reasonably necessary factor for the normal operation of that business or position. This also includes apprenticeships, internships, and other similar positions.

At Donati Law, PLLC, it is our mission to protect workers from discrimination and illegal practices. Our highly experienced and caring Memphis employment law attorneys are ready to help you understand your legal options and take any actions available to help your cause. Schedule a consultation to discuss your case with our legal team today.

Contact our firm by calling (901) 209-5500.

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