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Age discrimination: A growing problem

When we think about discrimination, the things that often first come to mind are race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. But one serious and often overlooked form of discrimination is ageism.

The American population is growing older, and that means more people of all ages will take on a variety of jobs. And with the aging population comes more discrimination on the basis of age.

What is ageism?

As defined by U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, "Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age."

Federal law prohibits the discrimination against anyone over the age of 40 in hiring, firing, gaining promotions, salary, assignments, layoffs, benefits, training or in any other aspects of employment.

The law also prohibits any harassment based on age that causes a hostile work environment. One-off comments, simple teasing and isolated incidents that aren’t very serious are not considered harassment.

How to spot age discrimination

Signs you’re a victim of workplace age discrimination include:

  • Smaller and more infrequent raises
  • Inexplicably poor performance reviews
  • Reassignment to less important or unpleasant tasks
  • Buyouts, layoffs and firings for older employees as younger ones are being hired

Some signs of age discrimination are subtler than others. According to the Society for Human Resource Management phrases often used by employers to weed out older candidates in job advertisements include "digital native," "high-energy," "ninja and guru," "bad cultural fit" or asking for a candidate’s GPA.

Fighting ageism

If you believe that you’ve been the victim of ageism, don’t take it lying down. Age is only a number and does not restrict your capabilities.

As best you can, document instances in which you felt harassed or discriminated against because of age. This could include comments from coworkers or supervisors, unfairly critical performance reviews or replacement by a younger employee. This information combined with the help of an employment attorney can help you understand your options and pursue a legal claim, if appropriate.

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