“Ageism” has been talked about frequently in the news, especially in the recent years following the recession. It has gotten a lot of press recently with reports of workers in their 30s in Silicon Valley getting Botox injections in order to appear younger in an attempt to compete against “younger” workers.
We all know that “ageism” is discrimination and violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, an amendment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It protects workers that are 40 and over and its purpose is “to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age; to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment; to help employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment.” If someone is discriminated against and suffers economic harm they can file a complaint of discrimination with the EEOC, typically within 180 days of the incident. But what about those times where a worker is not turned down for a promotion, or is terminated, or doesn’t suffer some other potential economic hardship?
Sometimes older workers can just be harassed. All HR people, all managers and all older workers need to be aware that harassment of older workers is as illegal as is discrimination. What are some of the signs of harassment?
Sign #1 The worker is referred to as “grandpa” or “grandma.” Although being called grandpa is a badge of honor and endearment when your granddaughter calls you that it is not acceptable when a co-worker calls you that.
Sign #2 The worker is referred to in conversation as the “old man”, such as “I don’t know the answer to that question, ask the old man.”
Sign #3 The worker is told they should not be doing something because “someone your age should be more careful.”
Sign #4 The older worker is questioned more closely about their absences due to medical reasons than are younger workers.
Sign #5 The relationship with the boss and the older worker suddenly becomes more strained or antagonistic.
Sign #6 The boss suddenly starts questioning the worker about “his retirement plans.”
Sign #7 The older worker is not included in activities or meetings.
All off these can be considered signs of harassment. Any worker subject to this should talk to the HR manager or to management and let them know that such harassment is unwelcome and should cease. And management and HR need to pay attention to such complaints and investigate and document as needed. Don’t sweep it under the rug as “harmless.” It is no more harmless than is sexual and racial harassment. Harassment is viewed as discrimination by the EEOC and will be investigated as so.
One major issue that must be closely watched is retaliation. A fellow employee may not “enjoy” being reported for “old man” comments and may really start to harass the older employee. Older workers should be told to document and report any such increased activity.
Here is my advice to the various parties involved in this scenario.
- Older workers don’t let co-workers get away with this, especially if it bothers you. Tell them those comments are not welcome. If they don’t stop report them to HR or to management. If the harassment doesn’t stop, then the talk to the EEOC. A letter from them usually catches someone’s attention.
- Human Resources you need to be diligent in making sure age bias doesn’t run rampant in your workplace. Listen to how workers refer to each other. Be careful yourself about how you refer to people.
- Managers, you need to be aware that bias exists. Don’t overlook workers because of their age and don’t make any business decisions based on age.
Remember everyone will at some point be the older worker.
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