Discrimination: How Can I Recognize Ageism in the Workplace?

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Recognizing ageism in the workplace.Ageism in the workplace is a form of illegal discrimination that is prohibited under both federal and state law. More specifically, ageism laws prohibit discrimination against people aged 40 or older. An employer may favor an older worker over a younger worker if both workers are over 40. In any case, you need to know your rights so that you can defend them if you need to.

Federal Age Discrimination Law

The federal age discrimination law, known as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), applies to the following entities:

  • Employers with 20 or more employees,
  • Labor unions with 25 or more members,
  • Employment agencies, and
  • Government entities.

Federal age discrimination law protects only employees, not independent contractors. Likewise, it does not apply to military personnel.

Maryland Age Discrimination Law

Maryland age discrimination law is similar to federal age discrimination law, except that:

  • There are no minimum or maximum ages; and
  • It applies to employers with 15 or more employees, except the military.

Maryland’s age discrimination law mirrors federal age discrimination law in some important respects.

How Can I Recognize Ageism in the Workplace?

Ageism In the workplace is rampant, despite the laws against it. Ageism also comes in many different disguises. Learn to recognize the following forms of ageism.

Psychological Warfare: Age-Related Insults or Demeaning Remarks

If you are 40 or older, odds are you have experienced hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults relating to your age. Although this behavior is not necessarily illegal per se, it does evidence discriminatory attitudes that, combined with other activities, can add up to illegal age discrimination.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Hiring Only Younger Employees

The practice of hiring only younger employees is so common that it has become the rule rather than the exception in many industries. The average age of an employee is in the late 20s throughout the Silicon Valley tech industry, for example. Compare this with Bureau of Labor Statistics averages across other industries.

Although some apparent age discrimination relates to the age of the people applying for certain positions, some of it undoubtedly is the result of blatant age discrimination. Don’t let high-profile “token hires” of older workers fool you. Look instead to the bigger picture.

Overlooking Older Workers for Promotion

Have you been overlooked for a promotion that eventually went to a younger but less-qualified worker? If you can show that this practice has become a pattern with your employer, you might have a strong age discrimination claim.

Cutting Older Workers Out of Challenging Work Assignments

Some employers attempt to ease older workers into retirement by assigning them only non-challenging tasks and leaving the “real work” to younger employees. This type of behavior is likely to frustrate and demoralize you, resulting in an uninspiring performance for the less-challenging tasks that your employer assigns you to.

This in turn can become a pretext for your employer to fire you based on “performance” issues. It also helps to perpetuate negative stereotypes against older employees.

Freezing You Out

Another form of age discrimination, which is similar to assigning you only easy work tasks, is to “cut you out of the action.” Your employer might “forget” to invite you to important meetings, or they might physically isolate you in the office. Your employer might even seek to transfer you to a geographically distant office, as a way of “encouraging” you to retire.

An up-to-date method of freezing you out, given the recent increase in remote working, is to ask you to work from home while other members of your team still report to the office. You might even wonder whether anyone else in your team even sees any of the work that you do.

Laying You Off

What is the difference between being laid off and being fired? Technically, the difference is whether any fault of yours played a decisive role. If your “fault,” however, is simply having lived a certain number of years, your employer might prefer to call it a “layoff” to relieve itself of the burden of complying with age discrimination laws.

If a round of layoffs appears targeted toward older workers, don’t be fooled if a few of the workers are younger. This could be just part of the disguise.

Eliminating Your Position

Eliminating your position entirely is one of the most insidious means of laying you off due to your age. The key to recognizing this form of age discrimination is to determine whether the elimination of your position occurred due to legitimate business reasons.

One way that employers use the elimination of a position to disguise an age-related layoff is to eliminate your position in name only. They do this by assigning the same duties to a position with another name.

Directly Pushing You into Retirement

Essentially, a mandatory retirement age means you will be fired after a certain age unless you quit. For most employers, it is illegal to set mandatory retirement age (certain exceptions exist). A slightly sweeter way of forcing you into retirement is to offer you a tempting retirement package that the company does not offer to younger workers. Your employer might even insinuate that the company will fire you anyway if you refuse to accept the retirement package.

Changing the Rules in the Middle of the Game

Did your employer suddenly begin applying a stricter set of standards to your work once you reached a certain age? Do you get the feeling that just about everything you do is wrong? Your employer might be seeking a pretext to fire you.

Contact Us While Your Claim Is Still Fresh

As a general rule, the longer you wait to pursue an age discrimination claim, the harder it is to prove. Move quickly to maximize your chances of victory. At Smithey Law Group LLC, we put over 158 years of combined experience to work to protect you against illegal age discrimination. Call us at 410-881-8512, contact us online, or email us at joyce.smithey@smitheylaw.com to schedule an initial consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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