Age Discrimination Issues in the Workplace
Believe it or not, job seekers are reporting age discrimination beginning as early as the mid-thirties. In fact, in some industries, you are considered to be “washed up: by the time you reach your forties. But what can you do when you're considered to be too old to be hired? How do you fight age discriminations in the workplace?
For a start, there are laws that prohibit employment discrimination because of age. In addition, there are a few strategies you can use to help mitigate age discrimination issues.
What is Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination happens when a job seeker or an employee is treated unfavorably because of his or her race, skin color, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or age.
The Gray Ceiling
What is the “gray ceiling” and why does it matter? The gray ceiling is a term used to describe the age discrimination that many older job seekers and employees face whiles they’re searching for jobs or seeking promotions. Even though employers aren’t supposed to discriminate based on how old you are, getting hired can be a challenge when you’re considered an “older” worker. And you don't need to have gray hair to be considered too old to get hired.
Percentage of Older People in the Workforce
When the House of Representatives voted unanimously to repeal the Social Security earnings cap in an amendment to the 2000 “Senior Citizens’ Freedom To Work Act,” their rationale was that removing the previous earnings limit would enable more older Americans to return to work.
About 18.8 percent of people over the age of 65 worked in 2016, according to the Pew Research Council. The National Council on Aging reports that, by 2019, over forty percent of people over age 55 are expected to be working. This will constitute 25 percent of the U.S. labor force.
Age Discrimination Issues
In addition to being considered "old," experienced candidates are sometimes considered to be more of an expense (higher salary, pension, benefits costs, etc.) than a younger applicant would be.
This isn’t uncommon, and the numbers are sobering. If you’re middle-aged, or even younger, keep in mind that you are not alone:
- Workers over the age of 45 are unemployed longer than younger workers.
- By 2024, the number of employees over 55 years of age will reach 41 million, compared to 27 million in 2008.
- More older workers are considering postponing retirement and continuing to work.
However, research has found no relationship between age and job performance. Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re better or worse than younger workers.
Age Discrimination and Job Search Options
What options are there for those potential employees who are considered "old" by hiring managers and companies? How can you address the perception that older workers are not as capable or as qualified as younger counterparts?
There are strategies older job seekers can implement to help expedite a job search, and to find gainful and meaningful employment. For the older applicant, it’s especially important to utilize the available resources for finding attractive positions, as well as to be aware of the online protocols for applying for a position. For example, here are tips for job searching and writing resumes and cover letters, specifically tailored for older job seekers.
More Job Search Tips for Older Workers
Joyce Lain Kennedy, author and career columnist, provides resume writing tips for older job seekers:
- When you write your resume, limit your experience to 15 years for a managerial job, 10 years for a technical job, and five years for a high-tech job.
- Leave your other experience off your resume or list it without dates in an “Other Experience” category.
- Consider using a functional resume rather than a chronological resume.
In addition, it’ll help to review these job searching tips for older workers, plus you can take a look at some resume tips for older job seekers along with a few cover letter tips for older job seekers.
Age Issues and Interview Success
Kennedy also recommends emphasizing the positive when interviewing:
- Project yourself as cheerful and flexible and back that up with proof of your skills and success.
- Review the benefits of older workers – commitment to a career, hands-on experience, a track record of success, stable and realistic expectations – and think about how they apply to you.
- Use storytelling techniques to back up your claims of these skills.
- Finally, review these job interview tips for older job seekers.
Age and Salary Issues
Let potential employers know that you are flexible. Even though you may have earned six figures per year in the past, perhaps you no longer need that much or maybe you’re willing to accept a lower salary to get your foot in the door.
If that's the case and salary requirements are expected to be included in your cover letter, mention that your salary requirements are flexible or negotiable based upon the position and the entire compensation package, including benefits.
Age Discrimination Law
Finally, if you believe you have been discriminated against because of your age, there are the protections provided by age discrimination law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects certain applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. The law is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, labor organizations with more than 25 members, employment agencies, and federal, state, and local governments. It does not apply to independent contractors or military personnel.
Each state has its own laws providing protection for older workers. These may provide stronger protection for older workers than the federal law. They may also apply to all employers, not just those with 20 or more employees.
When job searching, be aware that the ADEA prohibits advertising that a certain age is preferred for a position, limiting training to younger workers, and in most cases requiring retirement at a specific age.
Any individual who believes that his or her employment rights have been violated may file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Here’s how: Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination.