Age discrimination in the workplace is common. Most people have a sense of this, but the tactics used by employers are rarely direct or systematic.
One exception might be IBM, which was more systematic than most with its “resource actions” designed to terminate older, more costly workers and bring in EPHs, early professional hires. A former IBM-er reportedly received a call weeks after turning 55. After 33 years with the company, she had 90 days to train a replacement and 30 days severance.
Federal and state statistics
A federal law – the Age Discrimination in Employment Act – prevents employers from making adverse employment decisions based on age. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 20,857 claims citing age-related issues in 2016. This was the highest number of claims in nearly a decade.
The state Department of Civil Rights in Michigan received 316 age discrimination complaints, which was down slightly from a peak of 408 in 2014.
While these statistics provide part of the picture, many instances never make it to a federal or state filing. Employers may increase severance packages or offer better settlement terms to avoid age discrimination litigation and the public ding on reputation. And in other cases, it may be difficult to prove age discrimination occurred.
Less feedback and skewed evaluation models
Managers frequently provide less feedback to workers in their 40s, 50s and 60s. When a manager fails to convey the serious nature of performance issues, it may even deny an employee the chance to improve. Then, these concerns become the rationale for termination.
Evaluation systems can be used against older workers. In one lawsuit, plaintiffs in their late 50s and early 60s accuse Fiat Chrysler Automobiles of developing an evaluation system that disadvantaged older workers by including employee photos and other age-related details.
Point systems that score employees on various parameters can tilt against older workers. Encouraging applications for other internal positions and then quietly not hiring older employees is another tactic to “correct seniority mix.”
And in the most obvious of cases, a manager/owner of a firm may directly say they just want to hire someone younger.
FMLA leave and adverse employment actions
Medical leave related to a battle against cancer or recovery from a brain injury can complicate these cases. A termination letter may cite failure to provide a return to work date or some other opaque and vague reason for the action.
The prospects for older workers in search of similar positions are frequently limited. This makes their situation even more tenuous especially when retirement calculations assumed another 5 – 15 years at a certain salary.
There is recourse. Act on hunches. Explain what happened/is happening and ask questions about how the law applies to better understand your specific legal rights. One way to reduce age discrimination in the workplace is to shine a light on these ingrained practices.