Thursday, December 08, 2005

Age Discrimination Gets Younger - Right When Our Support is Needed Most?

Not long ago, age discrimination was mostly associated with those getting close to retirement. But as the economy changes and the Baby Boomer generation ages -- the youngest Boomers turned 40 in 2004 -- age discrimination is affecting more workers who are nowhere near the end of their careers.

In fact, many managers in their 40s may feel like they're just hitting their stride in terms of professional accomplishment.

"Age bias seems to almost be acceptable, and that's a real problem," says Dan Kohrman, senior attorney for AARP and an expert on age discrimination. "In some cases, employees are being let go, and they don't realize what was done to them -- that they were discriminated against because of their age."

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is designed to protect those age 40 and older. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), age discrimination complaints have been increasing steadily since 1999, especially among those between the ages of 40 and 50. And a survey conducted by ExecuNet in February 2005 revealed that 89 percent of those polled, who represented a cross-section of white-collar workers aged 30 to 60, were concerned that they may soon be discriminated against for age-related reasons.

Educate Yourself

So what can you do if you feel you're a victim of age discrimination? If you have recently been fired or laid off, talk to others who were recently let go and look for possible patterns. What sort of anecdotal evidence can you dig up? Does the company have a history of discrimination, not just by age, but also by race, gender or other factors? Also, contact an employment lawyer or the EEOC, which has a section of its Web site on age discrimination.

It's a trickier situation if you are employed but concerned about age discrimination in your workplace. In this case, you should educate yourself on all the different shapes age discrimination can take, advises Kohrman. Have you seen colleagues get passed over for promotions and raises because of their age? Has the company recently begun using evaluations such as "forced rankings"? Age discrimination experts say this rating system, which can be used to assign poor performance ratings to previously high-performing employees, is one tactic used to create a paper trail that can protect a company from a potential age discrimination lawsuit.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Discriminatory Practices- Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:

hiring and firing;
compensation, assignment, or classification of employees;
transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall;
job advertisements;
use of company facilities;
training and apprenticeship programs;
fringe benefits;
pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or
other terms and conditions of employment.
Discriminatory practices under these laws also include:

harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age;
retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices;
employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities; and
denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to, or association with, an individual of a particular race, religion, national origin, or an individual with a disability. Title VII also prohibits discrimination because of participation in schools or places of worship associated with a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group.

Employers are required to post notices to all employees advising them of their rights under the laws EEOC enforces and their right to be free from retaliation. Such notices must be accessible, as needed, to persons with visual or other disabilities that affect reading.

Note: Many states and municipalities also have enacted protections against discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, status as a parent, marital status and political affiliation.

For information, please contact the EEOC District Office nearest you.
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