While ageism is when there is “stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against people based on their age,” the term “gendered ageism” refers to differences faced by women compared to men.
A woman, for example, may face bias based on her looks or how youthful she appears.
Older women may be seen as less innovative, adaptive, or even less qualified.
Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), employers may not discriminate against someone age 40 or older (although some states have laws that also protect workers younger than 40-years old).
ADEA protects against discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, benefits, “or any other term or condition of employment,” and no one can experience harassment because of their age.
The federal law applies to employers with 20 or more employees, but various state laws can cover companies with fewer than 20 employees and often provide more rigorous protection of workers.
If you have experienced any of the following six scenarios, you might be experiencing age discrimination at work:
- Offensive remarks. While offhand comments, “simple teasing,” or non-serious, isolated events aren’t prohibited under ADEA, frequent and severe harassment about age is a violation. If the offensive remarks are frequent enough to lead to a hostile work environment or result in an employment action such as a demotion or a firing, that is considered a violation. Employees should be on the lookout for comments about not having much time left before retirement, needing more breaks at work, or whether one can handle the workload anymore.
- Changes in responsibilities. Suddenly being pressured, criticized, or disciplined or receiving sub-par performance reviews for the first time may mean that management is trying to build a case against you so they can fire you. Also, be aware of any job changes that suddenly limit your authority or assign you unpleasant tasks, as this may mean management is trying to get you to quit.
- External harassment. Abuse doesn’t always come from inside an organization. While coworkers, direct supervisors, and colleagues in other departments can commit harassment, so can clients and customers. Harassment doesn’t have to happen on your employer’s property to be considered workplace harassment.
- Exclusion. Employers cannot set age limits for training programs or state in job ads that they’re looking for people of a certain age. For example, they cannot state they won’t hire those with more than 20 years of experience as that’s likely to cause a more significant impact on those over age 40.
- Job term limits. In most cases, employers cannot force you to retire at a certain age. Only some state or local governments may require employees to retire at a certain age, or high-level policymakers who earn bigger retirement packages. From 2007 to 2013, the jobless rate for women over age 65 jumped from 14% to 50%.
- Benefits changes. Employers cannot deny you the right to participate in an employee benefits program. If benefits become more expensive for the employer because of your age, they do have the right to reduce your benefits. However, the employer must provide the same dollar amount of coverage for all ages of workers.
There are federal and state protections available to employees who believe they are the victims of age discrimination. If you believe this is happening to you, document incidences of discrimination and consider contacting an employment lawyer.