Age Discrimination and Senior Citizens
Let's face it. People in America are discriminated against all the time. Sometimes that discrimination is good. Sometimes it is not good for the target but rational and perhaps good for the perpetrator. Sometimes it is not good for anyone, the target, the perpetrator, society, and it is not rational.
No matter how age discrimination is categorized, it is often illegal. And we are a nation of laws. Laws should and must be obeyed, although we have the right to protest laws that we believe are unjust and unfair.
Age discrimination on the job is pernicious. Victims face all sorts of negative results. They lose income, social status, connection with others and sometimes a loss of self-worth. Most seniors want to work and many absolutely need to work. Social Security is often inadequate and many baby boomers will admit they failed to save much for retirement. Often, much of a senior's estate is in the house they live in, and with the housing bust today, it may be hard to realize the gain from that house.
There certainly are often good reasons for letting a senior citizen go. They may have a job that is physically more challenging than they can now do. Worse still, they may be losing some mental function, but that is the exception, not the rule. The rule too often is ageism.
Ageism probably creeps more into hiring than into dismissal. I am certain I was a victim of it as early as age 47, when I applied for jobs that were entry level, jobs where I had performed at the top when I was in my 20s. I suspect the hiring managers had no intent to discriminate on age. They simply could not absent themselves from the mindset of hiring 20 somethings for that particular job. I was going to cost a little more upfront – but would have saved thousands in training and supervisory costs, and I suspect they expected me to yearn quickly to get back on the career path in that profession, so I would not have been a long term hire. The reality today is that 20 somethings rarely stay in a job more than two or three years, and hiring a mature person probably would have meant more stability in the job slot.
In any case, the Age Discrimination Employment Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on age. This act covers a protected class from age 40 to age 70. As an employer you cannot refuse to hire or employ someone based on age. You cannot bar, terminate, or discriminate against someone in promotion, compensation or privileges. As an employer, you cannot indicate a preference, limitation or discrimination based on age.
The reality for an older applicant or employee is that it is almost impossible to prove age discrimination. If this is a road you decide to travel, you must document everything about the situation. Was age mentioned in the interview or hiring process? Was a younger person hired? Was that person as qualified? How many older workers does the company have?
To lodge a complaint, you should contact the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in your city. The EEOC will help guide you through the process of lodging a complaint if they deem that is a possibility. Many states also have laws against age discrimination, and you may be able to contact a state agency with your complaint.
There are also Federal laws against age discrimination in issues like housing, etc. Of course, you can have a seniors only residence, since you can discriminate against the young.
You can also discriminate based on salary. So, if you are a senior making a fairly high salary, and your employer terminates you to hire someone cheaper, that is legal. It may be a dodge based on age, but it is usually a successful dodge.
What you may well want to do as a senior applying for a job is to address the age issue up front. Show your interest in the job by providing accurate documentation that older workers are just as productive as younger workers, show that you are likely to stay on the job longer, will require less training and supervision, are technologically up to date.
At one time the Japanese had a system of senior mentoring. When a person reached a certain age, they were put on ¾ salary and work hours. They opened space for younger workers and became senior mentors and trainers for those coming up to take their places. This may well be something that the Federal government might want to include in any new legislation on age discrimination, thus giving companies a way to gradually ease the transition of workers from full time work to retirement or part time work.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of jobs out there for you, the senior. Keep looking and you will find one where your talent and experience are appreciated.