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Age Discrimination May Be Stalking You at Work

Age discrimination is becoming the primary concern of many older workers, according to a recent AARP survey of workers in New York City. The responses indicate that at least 46& are concerned while more than 48% state they have either directly experienced such discrimination, or witnessed it affecting a family member or friend who has turned 50. Additionally:

  • 26% have not been hired for a job because of age.
  • 24% were passed over for a raise or promotion due to age.
  • 23% were laid off, fired, or forced out of a job since turning 50.
  • 27% were encouraged or forced to retire before they preferred to.
  • 23% were subjected to unwelcome comments about their age.

What makes this issue even more disturbing is that 50% of voters 50+ in the workforce in NYC said they will be forced to delay their retirement for financial reasons. And there is ample evidence that these numbers reflect the national averages for age discrimination across all industries. And as older workers suffer disproportionately from the Great Recession, we at The Cartwright Law Firm feel it is critical that all workers be on the watch for signs they may be targets of age discrimination. Here are just a few:

1. Layoff. Companies are supposed to attach to a layoff notice a list of other employees affected and not affected from any layoff, along with their ages. Employers can be devious about how they put together such reports, to show only select departments or specific job titles, which may not give the complete picture of the layoff action. They may even include a few under-40 employees to make it look less like age discrimination. However, if you are selected for layoff and younger, less-qualified employees at your level are not, you might have an age discrimination claim. Even if you are a part of a one-person or small “layoff” and can show that younger people are not being included, then you may also be able to prove age discrimination.

2. Threatening your pension. Your employer may claim that you can lose your right to your vested pension if you’re fired “for cause,” but it’s not that easy. You have the right to appeal if they deny your benefits, and you can still sue if you disagree with the administrator’s decision. If you’re being threatened, seek out an employment lawyer in your state who handles claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA, which is the law governing employee pension plans and other employee benefits.

3. Job elimination. This little tactic is more often than not an excuse and a cover for age discrimination. If the company is not really eliminating the job, but merely changing a job title while putting someone younger is your former position, you may have an age discrimination claim.

4. Early retirement. Often, employers who want to get rid of older employees will offer a package including incentives to take early retirement. Sometimes these packages are too good to pass up, so if you are being offered one, consider it very carefully. If you turn it down, remember you can still be fired at will. But if the company only fires the older workers, you may still have an age discrimination claim. If the early retirement “offer” is involuntary, such as when the only alternative offered is being fired, then it likely violates age discrimination laws.

5. Mandatory retirement age. If your employer still claims a policy for a mandatory retirement age, it’s likely breaking the law. There are exceptions for firefighters and law enforcement, as well as very limited exemptions for employees who are at least 65 years old, and were bona fide executives or high-level policy-makers for their last two years.

6. Cutting job duties. Another way to force older employees out is to cut their job duties, limiting their authority and humiliating them with low-level tasks. You may have age an discrimination claim if this happens. Note: don’t just quit in disgust – if you stick with it, they are likely to do something else when they see their tactic isn’t working.

7. Isolation. Suddenly, you are being cut out of meetings, excluded from department lunches, and stuck in a cubicle far from the action. This is another way employers try to get older employees to quit. When you see signs that only younger employees are being included in activities from which you are regularly excluded, this is good evidence of age discrimination.

8. Suddenly stupid. After years of great performance reviews, you’re suddenly getting reprimanded for things everyone does, or being nitpicked for things the company didn’t care about before, it’s possible that the company is gearing up for the “suddenly stupid” defense, basically building a case to fire you for poor performance -a “legitimate reason” other than age for firing you. If you have been getting for write-ups when younger employees do the same things and aren’t written up, you might be seeing age discrimination in action

9. Denying promotions or opportunities for advancement. An employer cannot deny you a promotion just because they think you plan to retire soon. If your opportunities are suddenly being limited or you are assigned a lesser role in the firm after you hit one of those age milestones, it’s important that you document what is happening and see if the company is also targeting younger employees for similar treatment.

10. Cutting hours. Another way to put senior employees under duress is to cut their hours to the bone. Starving you to death is a tactic designed to force you to quit. Again, document when you see older employees targeted.

11. Harassment. It is important to realize that cutting hours and job duties, isolating you and assigning tasks beneath your documented skill level may all be forms of harassment. Other signs of age-based harassment may include calling you the “old man,” or “old lady”; supervisors and managers asking when you’re going to retire; saying you’re senile; or making other comments related to age.

If you are seeing signs of age discrimination while still employed, it is important that you document all such signs, and follow your company’s policy for reporting harassment in writing. Create a document with a title such as “Formal Complaint of Age-Based Harassment and Discrimination.” Describe how you’re being singled out for treatment different than younger coworkers; list any ageist comments that have been made to you; any other older employees being targeted; and list any witnesses or evidence. Be sure to date all such communications, and CC: someone else in the firm to assure the paper trail is replicated in more than one location. Definitely give the company a chance to investigate, but if the situation or the harassment continues, it is likely time to contact an employment lawyer. The Cartwright Law Firm has attorneys who specialize in employment law and especially in age discrimination matters. Call us today to learn whether you are currently being victimized by such actions.

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