Despite the growing numbers of a retiring workforce, the employment sector of those age 50 and older also continues to increase. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, by 2024 there will be nearly 41 million Americans age 55 and older working. Unfortunately, some of these employees may experience age discrimination, if they haven't encountered it already.
Within the last five years, age discrimination cases have been brought against Google, the LA Times, and IKEA, among other corporate enterprises. Current national legislation like the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would restore protections of The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 eroded by a 2009 Supreme Court ruling in Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc., which made it more difficult for workers age 40 and older to sue businesses for age discrimination such as being forced out of a job or denied a work opportunity. The ruling states that older Americans must prove age was the decisive factor in an employer's decision. The proposed Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act bill would revert to the previous legal threshold, which said that older workers must prove age was just one of several factors.
For those who find themselves in this situation, the important thing to know is what to do to avoid or confront age discrimination.
Almost all job applications require your date of birth for security reasons. While this may cause worry for applicants, San Jacinto College career services coordinator Brittany Bonds says your resume is key.
"A good rule of thumb is to take focus off dates and put more emphasis on skills, accomplishments, and related experience," said Bonds. "Additionally, keeping information on your resume relevant and focused on experience within 7-10 years can help. You can't always avoid dates or information that reveals age, but you can control how you provide information to an employer that helps them to see it's not a concern."
Most hiring managers and committees are trained on what questions can and can't be asked during job interviews, especially when it comes to age. However, there may be situations where someone hasn't had that training. Bonds advises to focus on your expertise and bring the conversation back to what you bring to the table.
"The No. 1 thing to avoid is discussing age repeatedly in an interview yourself," she said. "It's easy to fall into the trap of addressing 'the elephant in the room' through light humor, but in fact, you may inadvertently be bringing attention to a concern that wasn't there before. Show the employer you understand that you are older, but you also understand your value as an applicant. I often remind job seekers only you know your worth and can advocate for yourself as a candidate during an interview. Be able to talk about your value with confidence (but avoid arrogance) to help them to see why you are an ideal person for their position."
Online/social media presence
It's commonplace for many potential employers to search candidates' online and social media presence to ensure they would be a good fit for the company and its culture. Some older applicants may just be venturing into social media, while others may not have updated their professional profiles in years. When it comes to professional online and/or social media sites, always keep things current.
"For sites like LinkedIn, make sure you have a recent professional picture that is a good representation of you for the role you're seeking," said Bonds. "It's also a good idea to make sure your information is up-to-date and reflective of your recent job history and experience. Keep in mind that resume formats change frequently and expectations adapt, so be sure your resume reflects today's job market trends. Older resume formats can be a key 'tell' of senior job seekers."
Confronting age discrimination
Ultimately, if an applicant or an employee believes they are being discriminated against because of their age, there are proper procedures to follow according to their company's human resource guidelines. In general, Bonds says to respectfully address the issue with your employer first, build your case with detailed, factual documentation, then advance to the human resources department.
"If you have addressed the issue with the employer/supervisor and your concerns are dismissed or not addressed, there are steps to take to protect yourself and appropriately move forward," she said. "First, be diligent about noting the specifics of your concerns — i.e., how your new work hours differ from others in the office, trends you see that specifically indicate discrimination against you vs. others in the office, etc. Second, note all comments that are made against you with dates and times, and make sure to note if others heard the comments being made. Overall, state the facts and keep emotions at bay. Finally, approach your human resources department when ready, and try to have reasonable solutions to the issues. Be able to advocate for your work and results. The more evidence you can show in the situation, the better your argument will be."