Recognizing Age Discrimination in the Workplace
Age discrimination can take many forms in the workplace, too. Employers often unlawfully consider age when deciding who to promote, who to give opportunities to, who to terminate, and who to blame when things go wrong. Though ageism is often exclusively associated with older employees, it can adversely impact the careers of younger employees, too.
Examples of age discrimination in the workplace include:
- Pay disparity. If you are the only younger employee in an older workforce, you may be unfairly paid significantly less than your older peers doing similar work. If you are the only older employee in a younger workforce, it is possible that you could be paid less than colleagues in the same position.
- Unfairly targeted discipline. Employers cannot unfairly target an employee for discipline on account of their age. Some companies may routinely blame a younger employee for “rookie mistakes,” while they might frequently accuse an older employee of “losing their touch.”
- Exclusion from company communications and events. If you are the only younger or older employee in the workforce and find that you are being constantly left off of important emails or not invited to key meetings, you may be the victim of age discrimination. Similarly, a company can discriminate on the basis of age by deliberately excluding younger or older employees from company-sponsored social events.
- Unfavorable or skewed work assignments. Some companies engage in age discrimination by refusing to assign more challenging assignments to older employees for fear that they cannot handle them due to their advanced age. This can also apply to younger employees: Some supervisors will decline to assign more complex tasks to younger employees because they believe that they will be unable to complete them on account of their youth.
- Comments about your age. You deserve a workplace free of unwanted comments, even ones made in jest. Comments or jokes about your age, whether you are old or young, are always inappropriate. For older employees, this can include comments about your physical condition, ability to manage computers, ability to navigate steps or other physical elements, ability to keep up with younger employees, or proximity to retirement or death. For younger employees, inappropriate comments can include remarks about your perceived lack of experience, ability to keep up with older employees, or comments on youthful physical experience.
- Denied promotion or advancement opportunities.People should be promoted based on the merits of their abilities, but sadly, many employers will consider a litany of other inappropriate factors, including age. While discrimination of this type can be difficult to prove, there are still warning signs that age may be unlawfully influencing the promotion process. Age discrimination may be occurring if an employer repeatedly only promotes employees of a certain age bracket or promotes an employee that is substantially younger or older than you despite measurably inferior work performance.
- Wrongful termination or “encouraged” retirement. Some employers will illegally fire or lay off employees based on their age. This can be easy to spot if an employer abruptly or systematically removes all of its younger or older employees over a relatively short period. In other cases, you will need to carefully evaluate your work experience for other signs of ageism if you are surprised to find yourself without a job. Older employees can also face aggressive encouragement to voluntarily retire. Employers will often look for any reason to dismiss older employees who refuse to cooperate with forced retirement schemes.
Filing an Age Discrimination Claim
Many larger companies will have internal procedures for filing age discrimination complaints that typically involve communicating with a human relations department. Remember that human relations departments are built to protect your employer, not you.
Age discrimination claims can be filed with either the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). EEOC is a federal agency and will generally older address age discrimination in cases where the aggrieved employee is at least 40 years old. BOLI will handle age discrimination cases where the employee is at least 18 years old.
You have up to 300 days to file a complaint with the EEOC from the date of the most recent age discrimination incident if the case can be enforced under state law. You have as many as 5 years to file a claim with BOLI, but it is often advantageous to pursue your complaint as soon as possible.
After filing a claim, the EEOC or BOLI will investigate the allegations. Should they find sufficient reason to believe age discrimination occurred, they will request that your employer participate in conciliation and negotiate some sort of settlement. Should this effort fail, EEOC or BOLI can choose to litigate the age discrimination on your behalf. Should they decline to litigate, or if they are not convinced age discrimination occurred, you will be given the right to sue your employer within 90 days of their decision.
If you file a charge with the EEOC and you are at least 40 years old, you do not necessarily have to wait for formal permission to sue your employer. You can choose to file an age discrimination lawsuit after 60 days have passed from the date you submitted your claim. In these situations, you still only have 90 days to initiate a lawsuit after receiving a Notice of Right to Sue.
Our Portland age discrimination lawyers at the Bullman Law Firm can assist you with filing your claim with EEOC or BOLI. We also have considerable trial experience and can help you file a lawsuit against your employer.