Ageism in the workplace can take many forms. It can be as subtle as advertising for “a recent college graduate” to fill a job vacancy or as overt as passing over a highly qualified 40+ employee for a promotion.
Between 2007 and 2008, complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging age-related discrimination rose by more than 25 percent.
Both California and the federal government have passed legislation that aims to keep employers from using age as the basis for employment-related decisions. In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits age discrimination with respect to any condition of employment, including hiring, training, compensation, benefits, assignments and promotions. ADEA only applies to employers who have 20 or more employees, however.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which predates the federal legislation by eight years, contains the same protections and can be applied more widely since it applies to employers with five or more employees.
Both laws have mechanisms for filing grievances. Breaches of federal law must be filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; breaches of California law must be filed with the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Rodney Mesriani, principal partner with the Mesriani Law Group, a law firm in Los Angeles, notes that filing a claim against one’s employer directly can backfire, however. Mr. Mesriani who has been helping clients protect their workplace rights for more than 25 years, cautions that the only way to ensure you are safe from employer retaliation under these circumstances is to seek assistance from an experienced labor law attorney who has the resources to help shield you from employer retribution.
Tips for Proving Age Discrimination
In the meantime, there are some steps you can take to strengthen the case you will be making with an experienced labor law attorney.
Gather as much evidence as possible. Age discrimination can be difficult to prove, so it’s important to document every workplace interaction that may be pertinent. Performance reviews in particular can make or break your case.
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If you’ve been reprimanded for excessive absences, for example, ageism may be the real reason you’ve been denied a promotion, but your employer can claim it’s because you took too much time off, and you’ll have a hard time disputing that allegation. If, on the other hand, your performance reviews have been exemplary, you and your attorney will have a much easier time proving age discrimination.
Document any comments made about your age. Your employer or workplace colleagues may protest the comments were made in jest. That’s irrelevant. Preserve and print out any emails in which age-related comments appear. Write down the name of any individual who utters an age-related comment along with a description of the comment.
If you can, track the ages of any employees involved in group actions at your job. If younger colleagues get bonuses more often than older colleagues, for example, this points to a statistical pattern.