AARP has sounded the alarm. Older workers in New York City are experiencing age discrimination in the workplace in unprecedented numbers, it says. The senior advocacy group bases the claim on a recent survey.
"New York City's 50-plus residents are facing very serious issues related to their age in the workplace, that's a huge concern to AARP and it ought to be for candidates and elected officials in the city as well," said Beth Finkel, state director for AARP in New York.
The AARP survey found 46% of the people 50 and over it interviewed said they were concerned about age discrimination at work. Twenty-six percent said they had not been hired for a job because of their age. Twenty-four percent said they were denied a promotion or raise because of age. Twenty-three percent said they had been fired, laid off or forced out of a job since turning 50, 27% were encouraged to retire and 23% said they had to listen to snide comments about their age.
Against the law
A number of federal and state laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, the same as they bar sex and race discrimination. And while it's easy to make age discrimination charges, proving it in court is often not that easy.
A former investigative reporter for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles is suing the station and owner, Comcast/NBC Universal, claiming that his frequent complaints of ageism in the newsroom led to his dismissal.
According to The Wrap, a website covering Hollywood, 70-year old Frank Snepp filed suit, claiming he observed a pattern of discrimination against older employees. At one point, he says he was passed over for promotion, with the job going to a "younger, less qualified" employee.
How do you prove age discrimination? Attorneys who handle these types of cases say it helps if you can document a pattern of abusive behavior.
For example, if there are repeated references to an employee's age, that can be considered evidence of discrimination. Even more subtle interaction with your superior - for example a question about your retirement plans - can be a red flag.
The burden of proof, however, is on the employee. If you are in that situation, document cases of discriminatory treatment and, if there are witnesses, write down their names.
Lawyers say other behavior may be more vague and therefore, harder to prove. For example, if younger employees appear to be getting the best assignments and the promotions, that could be a sign of age discrimination. If you suddenly find you can't do anything to please your supervisor, it might be that you are being held to a different standard.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is the federal law that stakes out what is acceptable in the workplace regarding age and what isn't. It applies to employees who are at least 40 years old and who work for private employers with 20 or more employees or state and local governments.
It covers every aspect of the workplace, including job advertisements, interviewing, hiring, compensation, promotion, discipline, job evaluations, demotion, training, job assignments, and termination. While plaintiffs have to produce documentary evidence the U.S. Supreme Court has given them the benefit of the doubt, holding that the law prohibits practices and policies that are seemingly neutral but have a disproportionately negative impact on older workers.
AARP says its survey of New York City voters found that 50% believe they will have to delay their retirement for financial reasons. That, in itself, may be one reasons older employees are increasingly sensitive to the age issue.
Of course, a shaky economy and tough job market is placing stress on younger workers as well, making workplace friction much more likely. To avoid litigation, employers should make every effort to ensure the friction doesn't develop along age lines.
What to do
If you believe you have been a victim of age discrimination you may find that you need legal advice. If you have been terminated - in your mind unjustly - it's wise to not sign anything until after you have the document reviewed by an employment attorney.
If you have not been fired but feel you are being harassed or otherwise discriminated against because of your age, the law requires you to report it to someone in the company and give them the opportunity to rectify the situation. If they don't find a remedy to the situation and the harassment continues, you may then file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a comparable state agency.
AARP, meanwhile, is trying to make age a top-tier issue in the New York City mayoral campaign. It's sponsoring a series of debates and voter engagement efforts. It notes that AARP members are expected to account for half of all votes cast in the NYC General Elections.