When Age Discrimination Rears Its Head

Published: Dec 03, 2009

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Consider the following story offered by one of our readers:

“A recent phone interview went well and I was subsequently offered a position at a prestigious clinical organization. I took my pre-employment physical with great enthusiasm, during which I was asked my age. Upon telling my new employers I was 61, their attitude towards me changed markedly. I was encouraged not to return to work during the physical.

I believe I was doomed from the start. Job standards were placed unreasonably high and I was placed on a different (undesirable) shift from what I had been promised. Every effort to discourage me, or to find fault with my work, was made and I was shortly put on probation while other new (and younger) co-workers were given more latitude to learn the job. My exciting new position quickly became a nightmare and I was terminated at the end of my probationary period.”

It’s no secret that age discrimination can take many forms in the marketplace. As defined by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, it relates to individuals 40 years of age or older who have been discriminated against based on their age. It is illegal to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment including - but not limited to - hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

Ironically, the efforts of some employers to avoid litigation brought about by disgruntled older employees who have been “let go” have exposed younger employees to a form of reverse age discrimination. Even though younger workers generally earn lower salaries and are the least expensive to retain, many legal-wary employers have become reluctant to lay off older, better-paid workers who are a more serious risk to bring lawsuits against them. In summary, age discrimination can affect employees at both ends of the age spectrum.

If you’re an older employee or job candidate, how do you avoid the threat of employer age discrimination? The best defense is a proactive offense. Communicating the benefit of your age and hands-on experience – including a track record of proven success – is a good start. Conveying a sense of flexibility – in your working hours or conditions or in your salary expectations – may benefit you as well.

But what if – like our reader above – you’ve already become a possible casualty of age discrimination? Clearly, to counterattack you will need to provide documentation that will pass muster in a legal venue. One option is to utilize a third-party reference verification entity like Allison & Taylor (www.allisontaylor.com) that can contact your references and determine if age bias is a possible factor contributing to your employment-seeking difficulties. If such bias can be documented, you will have a tool to pursue legal remedies that may result in job reinstatement or financial settlements. Getting, and retaining, a new job is difficult enough in today’s employment climate – if you are a possible victim of age discrimination, it’s never too soon to fight back.

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