It's a tough job market out there. There are fewer "buyers" (employers) and more "sellers" (job seekers), and that means employers these days are being pretty darn picky and choosy about who they're going to hire. What that also means is that older people in the job market are having a harder time of it. Have you ever been told by a potential employer that you were "too experienced" or "over-qualified" for the job they were looking to fill? Those are code words for: "You're too old. Go away."
Why is there age discrimination? Because we live in an ageist society, people! It's not fair, but it's a fact. The number of unemployed Americans age 55 and older rose over 300% between January 2000 and December 2009, according to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP) Public Policy Institute.
Here are 5 other facts about age discrimination you may not know:
1. Age discrimination in the workplace starts as early as the age of 40.
With every year that passes, you're less and less a bright young thing with no responsibilities and more and more a grown adult with kids to raise, payments to make, health issues and interests outside your job. This makes you a burden to your employers, who want you to be productive at little cost to them. And that's why the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age.
2. The protections of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) apply to both employees and job applicants.
Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his or her age, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That includes hiring, firing, promotion, layoffs, compensation, benefits, job assignments and training.
3. Employers can legally ask you your age.
While the ADEA doesn't specifically forbid an employer from asking an applicant's age or date of birth, such inquiries may deter older workers from applying for employment. But if your job is at stake, you may want to keep a written record of such a request, because requests for age information are closely scrutinized in lawsuits to make sure that the inquiry "was made for a lawful purpose," according to the EEOC.
4. You can sue your employer if you believe you were discriminated against because of your age.
For companies with 20 or more workers, the ADEA applies, and that includes employment agencies. Good luck with that, though, because there are very few test cases out there where a plaintiff has successfully won an age discrimination case.
5. If you sue, your employer may pay you to settle your case out of court.
Companies often want to avoid negative publicity, and in the case of discrimination suits, they could offer to pay you rather than have their name dragged through the mud in a lengthy and even more expensive civil case. Keep in mind that your employer may ask you to waive your rights or claims under the ADEA either in the settlement of an ADEA administrative or court claim or in connection with an exit incentive program or other employment termination program. Just be sure to protect yourself by keeping a file of all written records, including any waivers as well as records of performance evaluations or complimentary e-mails from your boss.
On a final note, there is some good news in all of this. First, economists say that we are slowly climbing out of the 2007-2009 recession, and the job market has hit bottom so the rate of hiring can only go up. Second, we may live in an ageist society, but we also live in an aging society with an increasingly long-lived population, and employers are waking up to that fact and will be hiring older workers. And third, your employers are getting older, too.