California and federal law prohibit discrimination in the workplace against an employee for being age 40 or older. In California, an employee may also prove that an employer’s selection policy harmed older employees. Despite these laws, employers still take action to edge older employees out of the workplace.
Disparate impact policies
Sometimes, even seemingly well-meaning employers may take an action that appears to be neutral (i.e., not targeted toward any one group) but that has a disparate impact on older employees. A classic example of this is when employers terminate higher wage earners. Since higher wage earners are more likely to be those with seniority, they are also more likely to be over the age of 40. Thus, what seems like a routine layoff may actually be a form of age discrimination.
Discrimination in assignments
Another way that employers can discriminate is to give an employee worse assignments than his or her colleagues with the same or lesser experience. For example, one employee may be asked to take on assignments that are beneath his or her skill and talent level, whereas other employees are not. Though nearly all employees must occasionally do some job tasks that they feel are below their pay grade, an employer who consistently favors some employees over others in work assignments may be guilty of discrimination.
Discrimination by exclusion
Employers may also discriminate against older employees by excluding them from important meetings and conversations. Bosses might marginalize these employees in the hopes that they will quit on their own, or they may simply wish to exclude them from participating in higher-level decision making.
Other evidence of discrimination
One sign of discrimination is if the employer is unable to provide a good justification for treating an employee differently. For older employees, this could mean using vague and offensive adjectives to describe the employee, like saying an older worker is “tired.” If you feel your employer may be discriminating against you because of your age, consider reaching out to an employment law attorney.