It is rare for a few days to pass without getting a call from someone who was terminated because of, they believe, their age. It happens all the time. An employer hires someone in their 20s or 30s when they’re young and inexperienced. In their 40s, the employee has climbed the professional ladder, trained in new employees, maybe even become a supervisor or manager, and then in their 50s the employee starts being treated differently. The subtle shift begins by the employer excluding the older employee from important meetings with newer clients, or not giving them new big deals that come in. The discrimination becomes more obvious when, all of a sudden and for the first time, the employer puts the older employee on a Performance Improvement Plan or starts critiquing them for fabricated performance issues. Ultimately, after a sophisticated employer has spent some time creating a paper trail to justify terminating this older employee, they do. And they say they are terminating the employee because of performance issues.
If this has happened to you, you may have been discriminated against because of your age. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, look for it.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself. If you feel that your employer is crafting a justification for your termination, you may want to contact an employment attorney who can help you try to avoid what looks like an inevitable result. You can also make a report to the Human Resources Department of your company. The report should explicitly state that you feel you are being treated unfairly because of your age. Ask HR (or management) to correct the discrimination. That way, if the discrimination continues, you have documented your concerns and your employer’s illegal conduct. It is often useful to keep a journal of everything that is happening, including age remarks, but be sure to do this outside the office and outside work time. Note the names of employees who are younger and receiving more favorable treatment, as well as names of other older employees that you think may also be victims of discrimination. Documentation of your good performance is important as well. But do not take any documents from your workplace that you are not entitled to have.
Nobody deserves to be discriminated against, but when you are in your 50s or 60s discrimination can have enormous implications for your future and you may find it difficult to get another job so late in your career. Being watchful and proactive may help you preserve those “golden years.”