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Discrimination Against Seniors in the Workplace is a Growing Problem

Protecting Seniors’ Rights

We are facing economically turbulent times, which may include layoffs and companies downsizing. Unfortunately, older workers often endure the most of these cutbacks because employers use the opportunity to get rid of older workers who sometimes command the highest salaries or prevent the business from projecting a “younger” image. I have previously blogged about senior rights and protections. Today's blog updates that post.

I recently read a survey by about the extent of discrimination against seniors. I was quite surprised by what I learned especially how young people are when they first experience age discrimination. Here is a summary of the key findings.

  • 47% of American workers over age 40 have experienced age discrimination or ageism in their careers. It happens at companies of all sizes and to both male and female professionals.
  • The typical age when age discrimination first begins is about 45 years old.
  • Though federal statistics show age discrimination has decreased over the last decade, we found that nearly a third of discrimination reports go unreported. This is often because victims worry that nothing will be done.
  • 52% of older workers said that if they were to actively look for new jobs today, their age would negatively impact their job searches.

If you are an older worker, federal law provides certain legal protections for you in the workplace. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., protects most workers who are 40 years old or older from employment discrimination based on their age. Additionally, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 623, 626 & 630, requires that employers follow certain rules when seeking a waiver of claims and when offering severance packages or early retirement options to older workers. This article will outline the basic protections provided to older workers under the ADEA and the OWBPA.

My visibility in the senior space has led to many questions about the questionable practices by employers and advice for how to deal with being discriminated against. Here are three examples.

Examples of Discrimination

  • I am 72 and being overworked and mistreated to make me quit my job. I have a coworker who thrives on making me miserable. What can I do about this? They seem reluctant to fire me because the company is afraid that doing so might lead to a lawsuit for violating EEOC rules on age discrimination. Also, they don’t want me to get unemployment benefits. I’ve told her to keep records—i.e., a journal---but she is so overloaded with work and rework that she can't keep up with record keeping.
  • I was fired because my employer wanted to keep younger workers on the payroll who are paid less on the team. This may not be relevant, but as an expert in my field I trained these apprentices, structured processes, policies, and procedures for both my department and subordinates so they could develop skills in their roles. Since they stayed on as employees and I was fired, it feels as if I was robbed of my work by a new manager trying to make a cost reduction impact for the company. This is exactly what I was told, in front of VP HR while I was being fired. This was a tough case, so I advised the writer to speak with an employment lawyer since she was fired at least partly because of her advancing age.
  • I need to have special desk aids for carpal tunnel that I have been dealing with for many years. My hands and wrists hurt all the time and many days are very stiff making it hard to meet the requirements of production. At my age, I’m worried about getting hired elsewhere and being able to make the same amount as I do now with this employer if I get fired and need to find other employment, do I have any rights regarding my age and physical condition that can protect me from being fired? It makes me sick to think that I could lose my home if my current income goes down. One suggestion I made is for the writer to see if they could reduce work hours to lessen the carpal tunnel issues and/or ask to work at home where they may be able to take breaks that could alleviate the pain.

There is a lot more to say and more advice for me to pass along. Here are things to keep in mind if you believe you are being harassed, demoted, and/or discriminated against.

What is ADEA? Senior rights

It is especially important for every senior to know their rights in the workplace. Particularly, what the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) covers. The ADEA is a law that was enacted to protect older adults in the workplace. Specifically, the ADEA prohibits the following:

  • Discrimination in hiring, promoting, setting wages for or terminating employees based on their age.
  • Putting out advertisements or job notices that state age preferences or limitations either directly or indirectly (i.e., a wanted ad can’t specifically ask for employees under a certain age).
  • Implementing mandatory retirements (in most sectors).
  • Denying benefits to older employees.
  • Changing policies that only negatively impact older employees.
  • Harassment in the workplace based on age.

These acts are illegal under the ADEA. The goal of this act is to not only protect seniors in the workplace, but to make sure older adults who are applying to jobs get a fair opportunity for employment.

Other Laws Protecting Seniors in the Workplace

Seniors in the workplace not only have rights covered by the ADEA, but there are other laws protecting their rights as well. In March 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that employers could not discriminate against an employee based on their age. There are also many state laws put in place that can help protect seniors, as well as the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which oversees federal laws regarding the discrimination of job applicants based on a number of factors such as age.

Knowing Your Rights: When Your Rights Are Being Violated

If you are a working senior, and notice the following issues with your employer, then they may be violating your rights. It is important that if you feel you are a victim of age discrimination in the workplace that you find an attorney to help you. They will not only let you know your rights but let you know if you have a legal case on your hands. You may be entitled to compensation, depending on your situation and the type of discrimination you dealt with.

If you have faced the following challenges in the workplace, then you may be facing age discrimination:

  • You are being forced to retire earlier than you want to.
  • You have been fired because your employer thinks you are too old for the job.
  • Managers, bosses or fellow employers in your company have mocked you based on your age.
  • You have proof you have been overlooked for a raise or promotion based entirely on your age.
  • You didn’t get hired because a potential employer has stated they wanted a younger-looking person for the job.
  • You were fired because your employer wants to keep younger workers who are paid less on the team.
  • Before you were fired, your boss made a comment about your age, indicating they had a problem with it.

As a senior, you have the right to continue working in your job or to get a new job, even if you are “older.” Your age shouldn’t prevent you from having a career and making a living. It is simply important that you understand your rights and understand that you are protected from discrimination.

With an aging population, it is important for all employers to work with seniors to protect their interests, just as they would with any other employee. Ethical behavior requires that we respect others and treat them equally. The examples I have provided have the opposite effect and have no place in a socially responsible workplace. 

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on December 13, 2023. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on LinkedIn at: