What is Ageism?

Ageism is the act of discrimination against an older person. This primarily affects people over the age of 60, and is unfortunately experienced by many seniors on a near daily basis. Ageism can come in many forms, including:

  • Stereotypes that depict older people as invalids, forgetful, stupid, or slow.
  • Jokes aimed towards senior stereotypes.
  • People using patronizing language when talking to seniors (especially prevalent in doctors and healthcare professionals).
  • Experiencing work discrimination due to a person’s age.
  • Experiencing verbal or physical harassment due to a person’s age.

While not all types of ageism are directly harmful, age discrimination that occurs in the workplace and discrimination that turns into direct harassment are illegal. Here we go over the types of workplace ageism and what actions can be taken against it.

Workplace Ageism

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), people over the age of 40 are protected from age discrimination in the workplace. Types of discrimination can include:

  • Being fired due to a person’s age (especially if before the official termination, negative comments were made by the supervisor about the person’s age)
  • Being fired because the company no longer wishes to pay your salary
  • Being passed up for a promotion by a younger, less experienced worker (often done in order to get ‘ a fresh perspective’ or ‘new blood’)
  • Layoffs that affected mostly, if not all, older workers.
  • Negative evaluations that focus on a person’s age (often, evaluations will use certain language to convey this, using terms such as ‘old school’, ‘inflexible’, or ‘out of date’)

Ageism can also be combined with gender, race, or disability discrimination.

While the ADEA covers workers who work at a workplace that regularly employs 20 or more workers, In New York, the workplace only has to have 4 or more employees in order for a worker to file for discrimination. Workplaces do include state and local government jobs, as well as labor unions and employment agencies.

It is illegal for workplaces to:

  • Fire someone in order to stop paying for their pension benefits and or health insurance
  • Force someone into retirement (in most cases)
  • Unlawfully requesting applicants’ age or date of birth
  • Employers making specific age requests for positions (in most cases)

There are exceptions to many ageism claims, especially if age was not not the only factor for an employer’s decision or action. When filing for age discrimination, the individual must be able to prove that the discrimination was an intentional action based on the individual’s age. For this reason, many people have a hard time proving age discrimination.

In New York State, discrimination cases can be filed through the New York Division of Human Rights (DHR) (website found here), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (website here), and the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CHR) (website here) for those who live in New York City. To find out more about filing an age discrimination case, visit here.

For more information on age discrimination in the workplace, visit the resources below.




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