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3 warning signs of workplace age discrimination

In theory, federal law protects older workers from discrimination based on age. After someone reaches their 40s and beyond, they shouldn’t have to worry about employers considering their age when making decisions about who to promote, who to fire or how much to pay someone. Sadly, businesses often try to subtly work around the rules imposing limits related to their employment decisions.

It is rare for someone in human resources to outright tell an individual that they were part of a layoff because of their age. Instead, the signs of age discrimination are often a bit subtler. These concerns may serve as warning signs that a business may engage in age discrimination.

A lack of older senior leadership

Companies that have a mix of seasoned executives and ambitious younger professionals likely focus primarily on personal qualifications when deciding who to promote. However, when there is a lack of older professionals in the management and executive departments at a company, that may be a sign that age might play a role in the company’s decisions. The same can be true for the general workforce. If the company does not seem to retain many older employees, or if those workers generally see lower pay and fewer advancement opportunities, that can be a sign of unwarranted age discrimination.

The use of coded language

When companies send out internal memos to staff members or publish new job listings, workers may notice coded language that indicates a systemic bias against older, more experienced professionals. Terms like “energetic” and “new blood” are often indirect ways of saying younger workers, often under the age of 30, are better for a company.

A slightly hostile work environment

A hostile work environment often starts with small issues, like jokes that are hurtful or offensive to older workers. Jabs at their ability to use a computer or references to age-related health matters are common examples of how coworkers and managers might display a negative attitude about older employees on the job. Social exclusion can also be a concern. Networking and team-building opportunities often occur off the clock, and youthful team members may intentionally exclude older workers from socialization opportunities.

Those who have experienced such issues in the workplace and find their career stagnating or suddenly lose their jobs may have reason to question whether what they experienced was actually age discrimination. As a result, they may benefit from seeking legal guidance.