Older employees may feel like ageism is the last acceptable prejudice left in the workplace. People who know better than to mock or denigrate someone because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or disability may have no problem making fun of a colleague for being old and out-of-touch.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) provides protections to employees 40 and older. However, it’s hard to change attitudes about aging that we’ve all grown up with. In a survey by AARP, 60% of respondents who were 45 or older said they had seen and/or experienced age discrimination.
Subtle (or not-so-subtle) signs of ageism
Just because your manager or colleagues don’t outright insult you about your age, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a victim of ageism. Insensitive comments and “jokes” can be telling.
Every time a new technology or process is rolled out, are there comments that it will take you extra time to get up to speed (even if you can learn it as quickly as anyone)? Are you regularly compared to people’s grandparents? (“My grandpa has that same phone.” “My grandma has that dress.”) Does your manager feel the need to point out that they hadn’t even been born when a particular event that you’re discussing occurred?
When age discrimination leads to termination
Age discrimination can progress from insensitive comments and “jokes” to being overlooked for coveted projects and promotions to being terminated. It can be difficult to prove that age discrimination was behind a termination.
However, if it’s part of a larger pattern in an organization or if it was preceded by other signs of age discrimination, you may have cause for a wrongful termination suit. An experienced attorney can provide guidance based on your specific situation.