Worried About Age Discrimination? Are You Kidding? It’s Thriving!

Worried About Age Discrimination? Are You Kidding? It’s Thriving!

Sally Clark is 62 and unemployable. She’s savvy, high-energy and at the top of her game, an expert in branding. She would love to be working but can’t find a job. “I worked in corporate America for more than 40 years with big-name companies. But I cannot get a job–the same job I rocked 15 years ago. I can’t even get an interview. Nobody takes me seriously at my age–even at the job where I excelled.”

It’s a scary job market for those 50+ and it’s not getting any better

About 35% of the U.S. population is now 50 or older. And age discrimination remains a significant and costly problem for workers, their families and the economy. COVID’s tanking economy means furloughs and downsizing will have an even greater impact on an aging workforce.

Ivanka Trump just offered a suggestion to the millions of people who have been laid off or furloughed over the last few months due to COVID to just “try something new”. Well, Ivanka, finding something new for an older worker is going to be a whole lot harder in a climate where the unemployment rate is somewhere around 14% and growing. As businesses ramp back up, they’ll be looking for ways to streamline their operations and cut costs. That translates to an increase in contractors and younger employees who command lower salaries.

According to an AARP survey:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 workers aged 45 and older has been subjected to negative comments about age.
  • About 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
  • 76% of these older workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job; half of these older workers are prematurely pushed out of longtime jobs; 90% never earn as much again.

Victoria Lipnic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) acting chair compared age discrimination to harassment: “Everyone knows it happens every day to workers in all kinds of jobs, but few speak up. It’s an open secret.”

Age discrimination has a long-term economic impact

Nearly 30% of households headed by someone 55 or older don’t have retirement savings or a pension–they’ll have to continue working or rely on Social Security to survive. Yet workers at age 50 are highly skilled, at the top of their games and earning power. These should be important income generation years. But if someone is laid off and can’t find comparable well-paying positions, what remains open are unskilled, minimum-wage jobs.

As employers replace high-priced older workers with fresh, younger workers who are willing to work at significantly lower salaries they’re leaving a lot of intellectual capital on the table.

The socioeconomic consequences

Older people who don’t feel useful are three times more likely to develop a disability, four times more likely to die prematurely than their counterparts who are engaged in meaningful activity. If 30+ years of experience are suddenly discounted as irrelevant, the effect on your health and longevity take a toll.

Ageism: An accepted bias

The AARP Bulletin examined ageism in the workplace to determine why it is so prevalent and what can be done about it.

“Age discrimination is so pervasive that people don’t even recognize it’s illegal,” asserts Kristin Alden, an attorney specializing in employee rights at the Alden Law Group in Washington, D.C.  In the workplace, we found illegal age discrimination in:

  • Recruitment and hiring, when younger applicants are shown favor simply because of their age.
  • On-the-job bias, when older workers receive fewer training opportunities, promotions and rewards, or are harassed.

Ageism is the result of a culture obsessed with anti-aging everything

One big reason ageism remains an issue is our youth-obsessed culture that spent an estimated $53 billion on antiaging goods and services in 2019 alone. No wonder our resistance to growing old is shared by the companies that employ us.

Rising technologies that didn’t even exist until many older people were already well into their careers has led to hiring biases in which many organizations assume that younger workers will be more tech savvy. This is often not the case.

Not a lot to be gained from winning an age discrimination suit

Even if you win an age discrimination suit against an employer — and even if you prove the discrimination was intentional — the most you can be awarded is twice your lost back pay plus attorney fees if you prevail. Nothing for pain and suffering.

Over the years, it has become increasingly hard to prove that there was willful intent to discriminate based on age. An example might be a company deciding to lay off all its vice presidents. Nothing wrong with that, except that VPs are generally older workers.

A class action suit against PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm

The plaintiff, Steve Rabin, then 50, was rebuffed in his effort to obtain an associate position at PwC. He had an MBA and more than ten years of experience in accounting services. The complaint asserts that a PwC manager asked Rabin whether he’d be able to “fit in” with younger employees and made other somewhat derogatory age-related comments. More than 3,000 other plaintiffs have joined Rabin in a class action suit against PwC. The company, of course, denies wrongdoing.

Job ads address the age issue with descriptors that discourage older workers

HR departments know this is a problem. The average HR person would say, “Oh, yeah, that’s definitely a problem; it needs to be addressed.” They may try to avoid it entirely by creating job ads that use descriptions like “fast-paced environment, young and energetic, technology ninja’ or ‘We work hard and party harder.” These descriptions are code to older workers, telling them that they likely will not fit in.

Tech companies among the biggest age discriminators

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously declared in 2007 that “young people are just smarter,” Silicon Valley is the poster child for the hip, hot youth culture. According to a 2016 report by Statista, the average median employee age at 17 top tech companies was 32, compared with 42 for the total U.S. workforce. A 2018 ProPublica investigation alleges that IBM deliberately engineered the dismissal of an estimated 20,000 employees over age 40 in a five-year period.

The EEOC is supposed to be our police force in all this

The EEOC’s job is to enforce federal laws that protect employees or job applicants from all types of workplace discrimination. Its mandate is also one of leadership: It’s charged with initiating investigations when warranted and being the overall champion of worker rights. But when it comes to age discrimination, the EEOC is struggling to keep up and to bear down. An analysis by The Washington Post found that of 205,355 total age discrimination complaints filed with the agency from 2010 to 2017, a stunning 1% resulted in a discrimination finding. While some of these cases may not have been actionable or too difficult to prove, this remains a shockingly low number of cases.

Many of our Living Trust clients are retired or thinking about retiring

Many of these clients are baby boomers, many are still working, and age discrimination is a topic that frequently surfaces. Our Trust package includes a Will, Power of Attorney, an Advance Healthcare Directive and Incapacity Planning. For most of our services, we charge one flat fee. Schedule a virtual or office appointment today. We guide you through it and we prepare the legal documents.

We service the entire East Bay and North Bay areas

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This article is based on a story in AARP.