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Most people, when they think of discrimination, think of race, gender or religion. But, if you’re at least 40 years old, and have been harmed by a decision affecting your employment, you may have suffered age discrimination. Here’s what you should know.

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Age Discrimination: Where to turn for help

Most people, when they think of discrimination, think of race, gender or religion. But, if you’re at least 40 years old, and have been harmed by a decision affecting your employment, you may have suffered age discrimination. Here’s what you should know.

Dear Savvy Senior,

What constitutes age discrimination in the workplace, and where can I turn to for help if I think I’ve got a case? —Demoted Donna

Dear Donna,

Most people, when they think of discrimination, think of race, gender or religion. But, if you’re at least 40 years old, and have been harmed by a decision affecting your employment, you may have suffered age discrimination. Here’s what you should know.

Aging Defense
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is your first defense against age discrimination. This is a federal law that says an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, or treat you differently than other employees because of your age. Here are some examples of age discrimination:

  • You didn’t get hired because the employer wanted a younger-looking person to do the job.

  • You received a negative job evaluation because you weren’t flexible in taking on new projects.

  • You were fired because your boss wanted to keep younger workers who are paid less.

  • You were turned down for a promotion, which went to someone younger hired from outside the company, because the boss says the company “needs new blood.”

  • When company layoffs are announced, most of the persons laid off were older, while younger workers with less seniority and less on-the-job experience were kept on.

  • Before you were fired, your supervisor made age-related remarks about you, such as you were “over-the-hill,” or “ancient.”

Who’s Protected
The ADEA, which was created in 1967, protects all workers and job applicants age 40 and over who work for employers that have 20 or more employees — including federal, state and local governments as well as employment agencies and labor unions. If your workplace has fewer than 20 employees, you may still be protected under your state’s anti-age discrimination law. To find out your state law requirements go to www.workplacefairness.org/age — click on “Age Discrimination Claims State Laws” in the left-hand column, or contact your state labor department or your state fair employment office.

Another protection for older workers is the federal Older Workers Benefit Protection Act. Under this law, an employer cannot reduce health or life insurance benefits for older employees, nor can it stop their pensions from accruing if they work past their normal retirement age. It also discourages businesses from targeting older workers when cutting staff and prohibits employers from forcing employees to take early retirement.

What to Do
If you think you are a victim of employment age discrimination, your first step is to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation. You can do this by mail or in person at your nearest EEOC office. To find your area office visit www.eeoc.gov/offices.html or call 800-669-4000. They will help you through the filing process and let you know if you should also file a charge with your state anti-discrimination agency.

Savvy Tips: To learn more about age discrimination and what you can do to fight back visit www.eeoc.gov. You also need to be aware that proving employment age discrimination can be very difficult. In 2008 for example, only around 18 percent of the 24,582 age discrimination cases that were filed with the EEOC received favorable outcomes.

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Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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