Age discrimination in workplaces is unfortunately not uncommon. Age discrimination may take various forms. It could be a case of bullying, intimidation or harassment. It could be unfair dismissal, loss of benefits, lack of promotion opportunities, lower pay than expected, etc. Age discrimination in employment is illegal. Both federal laws, such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and individual state laws prohibit age discrimination at work.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your age, you have the right to file a claim against your employer with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the federal body that enforces the ADEA, or your state Department of Labor. You will need to be well prepared and be able to show that you have already pursued your complaint with your employer. The first step for many employees would be to discuss the age discrimination with your HR department. Your HR staff should know that discrimination at work is prohibited, so should help you sort the issue out. It is when you get no satisfactory response from your employer that you would be prepared to file a claim with the EEOC or state Department of Labor.
Gather Your Documents
If your HR department has been uncooperative, you will need to be well prepared with proof that you have been discriminated against because of your age before you file a claim. Evidence that could prove useful includes:
- a record of each incidence of discrimination; record what was said or the action against you, when and where it happened;
- any hard evidence of discrimination such as emails, letters, telephone messages or memos;
- an extract from the company’s policy document showing evidence that they take discrimination seriously;
- the response from the HR department showing that they failed to address the issue;
- a copy of your letter of complaint to your employer you would have given to HR.
Know Your Rights
The ADEA explicitly prohibits cases of age discrimination at work, but the law does only apply to employees over 40 and also only if they work for a federal agency or for a private employer with more than 20 employees. If you fit into this category, then you would be able to file a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC. This sets in motion a process in which the EEOC will attempt to verify your complaint and address your areas of concern. If there is no resolution satisfactory to you, then the EEOC may give you permission to file a lawsuit against your employer. There are time limits that have been set within which you need to bring your claim first with the EEOC and if you decide to file a lawsuit, a further time limit to do so.
Typically, the EEOC will endeavor to investigate the claim with your employer first and arrange a mediation session between you, your employer’s representative and an EEOC official together with your lawyer if you have one, which is recommended in any case.
Remedies that the EEOC may insist on might include your employer paying back pay, reinstating you in your job if you were unfairly dismissed, paying front pay if you cannot return to your job and paying compensatory damages. Compensatory damages may include compensation for the time you have taken trying to sort out the claim, paying lawyer’s fees and possibly punitive damages if the act of discrimination was deliberate and malicious.
If your complaint is one of harassment, intimidation or bullying at work, then this is covered by the ADEA as long as the behavior was linked to an obvious case of age discrimination, e.g. you were bullied because you were older.
If you are not eligible for damages because you do not work for an employer who employs more than 20 employees, you will need to take your claim to the state Department of Labor. Each state with only one exception has laws that prohibit age discrimination. Often, these laws are more stringent than the ADEA.
How an Employment Lawyer Can Help
It can be a stressful and often frustrating experience trying to resolve age discrimination at work. Before you file a claim with the EEOC or your state Labor Department, it is advisable to contact an employment lawyer. The lawyer will be able to assess your case, suggest ways you can improve the documentation you have showing that discrimination has taken place and represent you in any mediation or court case when you take your case further.
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