Federal employment laws prohibit businesses from making decisions about employees based on protected characteristics. For example, companies cannot lawfully discriminate on the basis of sex, race or religion. Age is also one of the protected characteristics that should not influence someone’s career opportunities. Specifically, advanced age should not count against someone in the prime of their career. Federal employment laws specifically prohibit considering someone’s age for the purpose of hiring, firing, promotions and compensation if applicants or employees are over the age of 39.
Despite these rules, age discrimination is a commonplace issue affecting many adults during what should be their prime earning years. How do employers engage in age discrimination that negatively affects older adults in the workplace?
By depriving them of projects and advancement opportunities
Often, age discrimination starts small and then becomes more pronounced as someone becomes older. The first manifestation of age discrimination is often the subtle slowdown of someone’s career. They go from being on the shortlist for every big upcoming promotion to getting passed over every time. Similar things may start to happen with sales leads or big design projects. Management teams may begin consistently expressing a preference for younger employees and freezing someone out of advancement opportunities and projects that would lead to higher pay.
By firing them or refusing to hire them
Age discrimination doesn’t just keep someone trapped in a lower-paid position. It may also deny them employment altogether. Some companies will target older workers whenever conducting layoffs or staff reductions. Other businesses will intentionally screen out older applicants when looking for someone to move into an executive or managerial role. Competent workers who believe their application garnered positive attention will then not get a position after an interview reveals their age to the company, for example.
Those who have endured age discrimination sometimes have a right to pursue legal action. Holding employers accountable for age discrimination is one way for older workers to minimize the impact of company misconduct on their personal futures.