Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the steps to take to fight against age discrimination in the workplace, and where can I turn to for help if I think I’ve got a case?
— Passed Over Paul
If you believe your age has cost you in the workplace – whether it’s a job, a promotion, or a raise – you have options for fighting back. Here’s what you should know along with some steps to take against this illegal workplace activity.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is your first defense against age discrimination. This is a federal law that says an employer cannot fire, refuse to hire, or treat you differently than other employees because of your age. Some examples of age discrimination include:
- You were fired because your boss wanted to keep younger workers who are paid less.
- You were turned down for a promotion, which went to someone younger hired from outside the company, because the boss says the company “needs new blood.”
- When company layoffs are announced, most of the persons laid off were older, while younger workers with less seniority and less on-the-job experience were kept on.
- Before you were fired, your supervisor made age-related remarks about you.
- You didn’t get hired because the employer wanted a younger-looking person to do the job.
The ADEA protects all workers and job applicants age 40 and over who work for employers that have 20 or more employees – including federal, state and local governments as well as employment agencies and labor unions.
If your workplace has fewer than 20 employees, you may still be protected under your state’s anti-age discrimination law.
Steps to Take
If you think you are a victim of employment age discrimination, you may first want to talk to your supervisor informally or file a formal complaint with your company’s human resources department.
If that doesn’t resolve the problem, you should then file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation, but it may be extended to 300 days. You can do this online, by mail or in person at your nearest EEOC office (see EEOC.gov/field-office) or call 800-669-4000. They will help you through the filing process and let you know if you should also file a charge with your state anti-discrimination agency.
If you do file, be prepared to provide the names of potential witnesses, your notes about age-related comments and other episodes.
Once the charge is filed, the EEOC will investigate your complaint and find either reasonable cause to believe that age discrimination has occurred, or no cause and no basis for a claim. After the investigation, the EEOC will then send you their findings along with a “notice-of-right-to-sue,” which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.
If you decide to sue, you’ll need to hire a lawyer who specializes in employee discharge suits. To find one, see the National Employment Lawyers Association at NELA.org, or your state bar association at FindLegalHelp.org.
If you lose your job in a group termination or layoff, you should consider joining forces with other colleagues. There are advantages to proceeding as a group, including sharing costs of the litigation and strengthening your negotiating position.
Another option you may want to consider is mediation, which is a fair and efficient way to help you resolve your employment disputes and reach an agreement. The EEOC offers mediation at no cost if your current or former employer agrees to participate. At mediation, you show up with your evidence, your employer presents theirs and the mediator makes a determination within a day or less.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.