Here are 8 key steps to take if you're being targeted for age discrimination:
- Write it down: Write down dates, location and any witnesses of any age discrimination you notice, whether against you or against your colleagues.
- Gather documents: If you see that the best territories have gone to younger employees, that layoffs or disciplines are focusing on older employees, or have any other documents that you think prove age discrimination, gather them together and make copies.
- Keep your evidence safe: Take your notes and documents somewhere safe. Don't lock them in a desk or keep them in your office. It's best to keep them at home or at least in your purse or briefcase so your employer can't take them away from you if you're fired.
- Report it: If your coworkers or supervisors are singling you out for harassment due to your age, you need to follow your company's policy on reporting harassment. Report it, in writing, as a "Formal Complaint of Age Discrimination." Lay out every way you are being singled out for nasty comments, exclusion, unfavorable job assignments, and disciplines as compared to your younger coworkers. Give them an opportunity to investigate and correct the situation. If you fail to do this, you might lose your right to sue for age-based harassment later.
- Don't give them an excuse: If you think you might be targeted, be extra careful at work. Obey every direct order (other than something illegal), document what you've been told to do, and make sure your work is pristine.
- Don't delay: In order to bring a suit for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination In Employment Act, you must first file a Charge of Discrimination with EEOC. Depending on whether your state also has an agency that handles discrimination claims, you have either 180 days or 300 days from the date of discrimination to file with EEOC. Your state may also have laws against age discrimination with different deadlines. Especially if you've suffered a demotion, been denied a job or promotion, or lost your job, you should contact EEOC or an employment attorney in your state right away.
- Don't refuse to sign: If you're presented with a write-up or discipline, don't refuse to sign. That could be insubordination. Instead, sign with a notation next to your signature, "As to receipt only – rebuttal to follow." Then submit a businesslike and factual rebuttal with any evidence you have showing that you didn't do what they're accusing you of or how younger coworkers who have done the same thing aren't being disciplined. You should mention in your rebuttal that you believe you are being targeted due to your age.
- Don't sign: If you're presented with a severance agreement or other documents to sign after you've been laid off or fired, don't sign on the spot. Ask for a copy to review. You're in shock and not thinking straight. Take it home. Then review carefully and take it to an employment lawyer in your state if there's anything you don't understand. If you sign a severance agreement, you are probably releasing any claims you have against your employer, including age discrimination claims. If you do have evidence of age discrimination, this might give your lawyer to negotiate a better severance package for you.
If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs. While I can't answer every question here, your question might be featured in one of my columns, or in our upcoming live video chat.