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Ask The Expert: Age Discrimination in Job Search and the Workplace

Have you ever seen or experienced age discrimination at work or feel that your age is negatively affecting your job search? About 3 in 5 workers over 50 surveyed by AARP think older workers face discrimination based on their age.

AARP Foundation Senior Attorney Laurie McCann is an expert in this field, with extensive litigation experience related to age discrimination and other employment issues.

Now thru Monday, January 27, Laurie is here to answer your questions on age discrimination in the workplace – and to address your options under the law and what you can do to protect yourself.

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AARP Expert

JamesC744010,

While its your decision whether or not to file a charge with the EEOC, the facts you describe do suggest age discrimination may have taken place - as well as retaliation. The EEOC has had several high profile age discrimination cases in which restaurant chains have been defendants including Texas Roadhouse, Seasons 52 and Dardens. If you do decide to file a charge with the EEOC, keep in mind the important time limitations for doing so - generally within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory action. Thank you for your message and good luck going forward.

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The nonprofit I served as COO had across-the-board layoffs in October 2018. I became a contractor, helping the board with shutdown processes; there was no résumé gap. I had over 40 years of experience (my résumé reflected 15 years) in for-profit and nonprofit management. For one position, I "auditioned" by spending 8 hours providing an analysis of their financial reporting.
Despite multiple online and in-person interviews, I kept hearing the magic words, "Not a good fit." Eventually, I gave up and filed for Social Security at age 62. I was the sole earner, and medical premiums for my husband and I are a serious burden. 

It's a heartbreaking waste. Do they think I can't keep up? My first "database" project involved an Addressograph; my last was Saleforce. I've seen more bad business decisions than they may ever encounter, and am more than willing to share my wisdom with an employer. 

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AARP Expert

annf568615,

Based on what we've seen, "you're not a good fit," may very well be a code phrase for age discrimination. We agree that age discrimination is a heartbraking waste for employers, for the economy, and most importantly for experienced and talented older workers like yourself who want to continue to contribute. I am very sorry you've had such a frustrating experience.

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Newbie

I was terminated from my position last year after being off for more than 6 mos.  The 12 wks that the Family Medical Leave Act(FMLA) offers is wonderful and has been such a help to millions of people since its inception in 1993.  But with current changes in how disease is approached, it is not enough time to receive 2 rounds of Chemo and 3 surgeries and recovery time.  The doctor initially wrote it would take 1 year for treatment.  She was correct.  

I'm attempting to get legislators to make a new designation called "Life Threatening Illnesses" and include illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and kidney disease to expand FMLA to 52 wks for illnesses that kill if no treatment is received.  It would give time to get prescribed treatment,  while offering job and benefit protection under FMLA.  Once terminated, you receive information on COBRA to continue your benefits.  I also received in that letter a seperate notice that stated, if I was over age 65 I could not continue my life insurance.  Luckily, I have recovered but if I had died my family would have had to bury me without life insurance.  My understanding is that if you offer a benefit to your employees, ALL are elgible for it.  Does this break the law by eliminating my opportunity to continue the life insurance policy based on my age?

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VickiM333093,

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employers must either offer the same benefits to employees of all ages - or, if the cost of the benefit increases with age, the employer can comply with the ADEA by spending the same amount on each employee - even if older employees receive lower benefits. Life insurance is the perfect example of a benefit whose cost increases with age - but cutting off the benefit altogether - as you describe - would violate the ADEA.  However, under COBRA, life insurance is not considered "medical care" and as a result employers are not required to continue that benefit.

I am very glad you have recovered. Thank you for your question.

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At age 63, with 35+ years of professional employment, I was not even granted an interview for a seasonal cashier position at Target.  Whereas I had been previously informed (second hand) by younger employees that Target offered much scheduling flexibility in terms of weekly hours and length of shifts, I was advised upon inquiry at a job fair, by the store rep, that shifts were normally 8 hours and very physically demanding.  This contradicts not only what this company promotes in its job postings, but what I had learned through word of mouth from younger employees.  Given the fact that I have been a loyal customer for over 30 years (verifiable), I was shocked and dismayed at the dismissive response I received, which I strongly believe was due to my age (63).  I am healthy, energetic and reliable; have many years of professional experience; and deserve more than perfunctory consideration for ANY job I am capable of performing, regardless of how much or how little the responsibility/compensation.  That said, I do not desire a professional position at this stage of my life.  I just want to continue helping people, contributing my broad skills, and earn a supplemental income without being written off due to my age.

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AARP Expert

kc67458757,

I am sorry to hear about your experience at Target. In addition to our work to combat age discrimination, AARP also strives to educate employers about the value of older workers. AARP's Employer Pledge program is one way we seek to do that. The program highlights employers who pledge to promote equal opportunity for all workers regardless of age. For more on the program, see https://www.aarp.org/work/job-search/employer-pledge-companies/.

I wish you the best of luck in finding a rewarding opportunity that allows you make the contributions you have to offer. 

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Honored Social Butterfly

If an employer is having some financial difficulties or wants to do some reorganization and layoffs maybe in the equation, is there anything wrong with offering early retirement before other decisions are made as to who might go and who might stay??

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Gail1,

Early retirement incentives are lawful under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) so long as they are voluntary (i.e, no threats - take it or you'll be laid off if you don't), and so long as the amount of the benefit does not decrease with age or gets cut off at a certain age. I hope that answers your question.

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A bill that would help older adults fight back against age discrimination on the job moved one step closer to becoming law Wednesday when the House of Representatives passed it with bipartisan support. @lmccann58, what does this mean for older workers?”

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AARP Expert

AARP applauds the House's vote yesterday to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). POWADA was first introduced, with AARP backing, to overturn a 2009 adverse U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., that made it much more difficult for older workers to prove age discrimination - more difficult to prove than other forms of discrimination, such as race, gender, national origin, or religion. POWADA restores the ADEA's burden of proof for age discrimination victims while sending a clear message that age discrimination must be treated as seriously as other forms of workplace discrimination.Under the Gross decision, courts were allowed to tolerate or overlook some amount of discrimination - under POWADA, the playing field is releveled and makes it clear that any amount of discrimination is unlawful. 

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Community Manager

Good afternoon everyone. We're a few days into the special AARP Expert event with @lmccann58. Thank you all for your asking some excellent questions and Laurie for sharing her expertise.

 

@lmccann58, can you tell us, are employers permitted to put a cap on years of experience (e.g., seeking 10-15 years experience)? Could that be construed as age bias?

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Contributor

Can I privately speak with Laurie?

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Community Manager

Hi @donnadjanderson, this event is only set up as a public forum. You could consider, however, creating an anonymous username to ask your question. I'm happy to let you know how to change your username, just let me know.

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In May, I was given an document that if I resigned, they would pay me til July, and if I signed I would not be eligible for unemployment.  ?Because I was completetly caught off guard I signd the document.  I am single 62 and believe it was age discremination.  There was no documentation stating I had any work issues, but my boss said we were not a good fit.  Even though I signed the document do I have any other options since this law passed

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AARP Expert

donnadjanderson,

The bill that just passed the House of Representatives does not address waivers and releases of rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). However, a law passed in 1990 - the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), championed by AARP, established that waivers of ADEA rights and claims must meet strict requirements to be lawful. For individual terminations, amongst other criteria, the waiver must give you at least 21 days to consider signing the document, and must have told you that you had the right to revoke your signature within 7 days. It would have also had to specifically mention the ADEA. If the waiver didn't comply with the OWBPA's requirements, it would not prevent you from challenging your termination under the ADEA, although it might still be effective for waiving your rights under other statutes. However, if you want to consider filing a charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADEA, you should not delay. Charges must be brought generally within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory action - which would be sometime next month in your case.

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As background, I work at a large, public university.  Most of our job opportunites are internal. In an update to our online HR information system, the date the employee is vested for retirement is now visible to anyone with access to our electronic system.  Our rule is that the employee is vested for full retirement with either 15 years of service at age 62 or 25 years at any age.  If the employee is eligible to retire after 15 years of service, anyone involved in hiring an internal employee can tell the year that employee turned 62. 

 

I often make the second round of interviews, only to find after the in-person interview, that someone half of my age has been given the job; has been at the university less than five years, and is being paid  thousand dollars more than I am. I am not ready to retire and advancement opportunities are non-existent with the addition of the retirement date to online records. This is especially difficult for women, who are often late-starters due to family responsibilites.  

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AARP Expert

m609032t,

I have to say I am shocked and dismayed that your employer allows such age-related information to be visible to those with hiring authority. If the potential for age discrimination - or at the very least, perceived age discrimination - hasn't been brought to the university's attention, I hope someone does so soon. I cannot think of why making that information visible is necessary and the potential for discrimination almost certainly outweighs any benefit from doing so.

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Newbie

I have experienced age discrimination.

i worked for the IAMAW and was told there was going to be a lay-off. They were asking the older people to retire to save a young persons job. I had 43 years of service and was 60 years of age. I really didn’t want to retire but gave in.

After the meeting which included a lawyer I wanted to say good bye to my friends but was asked to leave the building/property.

A few days after this I read the package of papers and saw that had I not retired, they would have layed me off.

i am humiliated and suffer from low self esteem. I had no retirement party and realistically I was kicked in the rear out the door.

Its been 2 years and I feel

I wasted my life in a job that claims they are for and protect their workers! I now realize it doesn’t pay to be devoted to a job.

Jan

 

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I'm sorry this happened to you. I was over disciplined on a job and my health went bad. I quit. Now I work several part time, work as you please Job's mostly through apps that makes life harder. I used my retirement savings and this hurts. I'm 56 I'm scared. 

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AARP Expert

JaniceB554211,

Asking older employees to retire to save the jobs of younger employees is blatant age discrimination pure and simple. I am very sorry you had to go through such an experience. The premise of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is that ability NOT AGE should determine an individual's employment opportunities. Thank you for sharing your story as it serves as an important reminder for AARP of how much work remains to be done to ensure that freedom from age discrimination is truly a civil right in this country.

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Honored Social Butterfly

I was terminated in December 2018, four months after the death of my husband. I was the highest paid clinical person there and also had been there the longest, almost ten years. Was written up for made up bs incidents, all of which I rebutted to no avail. But that was just a cover for wanting to get rid of my salary/age. Now more than a year later, I have applied to more than 80 jobs. Those I were offered were so horrible or far away or such low pay or all of the above. I have been a Nurse for more than 40 years and have a wealth of knowledge to bring to any position. Instead, I feel I have been put out to pasture and I spend many hours daily searching for work that has kept me from properly grieving my husbands death and moving on with my life. Every job I even consider has age discrimination wording in it or they want a degree. At 63, that's just not an option for me. Most of the time I'm told "we've moved on with another candidate." I've grown to hate those words. I have taken to looking outside of Nursing, but those jobs will not pay my bills sadly. This is not the way I wanted to script my retirement.

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Beatlelover,

 

First, I'm sorry about the loss of your husband. Then your job. Then your not being able to find another one.

Have you thought about travel nursing? I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and I've done one Locum Tenens gig. It was a local one, so it was a nice way to get into the whole LT deal.

Both travel and LT nurses get paid room/board, licensing if needed, they will fly you back and forth, and you can pick the length and place of the jobs. It might be something to think about, once you are a bit more settled. Only bad thing is, with almost all agencies, you are a 1099 employee, so you have to pay FICA, SS, and both the employer and employee taxes. ~30% of what you make.

If you do go this route, it's best to have an accountant, and make sure you know what the local area is paying, and go higher. Remember, they have a desperate need, or they wouldn't be turning to an outside agency to fill it.

My current job has cut my hours to zero, since my doc can't even fill her schedule. Wintertime in Peds? Everyone else I know is slammed!

I am supposed to drive to FL for a 'face to face' interview, after an hour long conference call. They had the nerve to say, they passed my CV around to another hospital in their group, and the Ped said if Hosp A passes on me, she wants me, sight unseen. Ok, that's not the bad part. The bad part is 'she's looking to go part time, now that she's getting so old. She's about 61-2'!!!!

They don't know how old I am, bc I found the ad on an NP job board, and sent my CV directly to the recruitment dude. Wait until I have to fill out the official hospital application, and put my 1955 birthday down!! I'll bet the job disappears faster than ice in FL.

I'll be 65 the end of this month. The job's perks are 10K sign-on, 10K relo expenses. I doubt they are going to do that when when see how 'old' I am.

I have a local interview on my birthday, 1/28 - with a local kid's urgent care center. Every other weekend (haven't done that in years!). If I got it right, I'll get paid for 16 hrs, can work more, but 16 hrs, but scheduled for 12. We'll see.


Karen
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I feel your pain - literally. I have an ADVANCED degree in the field and am an RN with decades of experience and clinical as well as teaching awards. The short response to this is that a degree wouldn't help you at all. All that owuld help you is to have your daughter be pretty and sleep with the hiring manager. I hate it. You are already discarded in the very initial applicaiton because they can know your age simply by the other responses required of you in your online application. How can you get your masters degree in nursing in 1973 if you are  a maximum of 30 years old?  They can then drum up any of a plethora of other reasons why you were passed over. If nothing else, they will rush to find a younger person - ANY younger person, so that they can simply state that the position has already been filled. 

 

I hate saying all this, but I too remain unemployed and I suppose it might be some small consolation to know that you truly aren't personally being singled out - only your age (and my own!) 

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AARP Expert

Shirleystn,

Thank you for sharing your experience which serves to underscore just how pervasisve and serious the problem of age discrimination in hiring is.  AARP is committed to urging Congress and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), to take steps to limit the ability of employers and online job search sites to screen out older applicants by asking for graduation dates, dates of birth and other fields that cannot by bypassed.

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AARP Expert

@BeatleloverKT, I cannot even begin to tell you how sorry I am about the loss of your husband followed by your termination from employment. Many people would have given up by now and I admire you for your perseverance. If you haven't done so already, reach out to your professional network. These relationships can be invaluable in making connections that can lead to an employment opportunity. You may want to consider volunteering or taking classes while you continue your job search. Either would help in maintaining your relevance, improving your optimism, and provide opportunities to network. Please know that I am hopeful that you find a rewarding job where people appreciate you very soon.

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Contributor

Yes. I have faced age discrimination more than once. First time I was in my early 50's. Department was looking to hire another admin. and one said to be sure not to hire anyone over 50. Many years later after moving to the north west I could only land temp jobs. I was over qualified for most jobs. I finally retired early at 62. We wanted to have steady income. I am 65 now but often wish I was still working.

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I know how you feel, it's digusting. Some employers still are very aware of the experience, education, good manners and good habits of people of a certain age. The preference to hire yongsters that are addicted to texting, plain stupid, don't know how to engage in a conversation and have perhaps poor skills is indeed a Nationwide epidemy.

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It is.

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AARP Expert

esanford,

I am so sorry that you faced such blatant age discrimination. More than 50 years after the enactment of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), age discrimination remains pervasive. AARP continues to fight to strengthen the ADEA so that it is an effective tool for challenging age discrimination. This week, we expect the House of Representatives to vote on the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA), which would overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision that raised the evidentiary burden for age discrimination victims. 

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