Simply put, discrimination is about one individual judging another based on nothing more than ignorance and prejudice, not individual merit. No matter what form discrimination takes, it is always a distasteful and illegal practice. Age discrimination in the workplace is no exception. And sadly, this unjust practice is on the rise.
In last week’s post, I addressed the subtleties of age discrimination and the legislation written to protect individuals from this illegal practice. I now offer you guidelines to follow if you believe you are experiencing age discrimination:
* Be actively involved in changing stereotypes and prejudice. Speak up for yourself and others. Don’t ignore mean spirited remarks about age. Be aware that people often try to disguise their negative feelings about age by “joking around”. People often react with nervous laughter, as no one knows how to respond to such veiled discrimination. Don’t laugh! Tell the person that age discrimination is not a laughing matter. Don’t be surprised if you hear something like “ah come on, can’t you take a joke?” Stay calm, look the person in the eye and say, “age discrimination is simply not funny. It’s hurtful and it’s against the law.” Make it clear that anyone who fails to correct the individual practicing age discrimination is in fact, part of the problem. (Silence enables bad behavior.)
* Try to separate your feelings from the facts. (Not every bad behavior or remark constitutes age discrimination.)Talk to people who have witnessed what you are experiencing and ask them for their interpretation of events.
* Create a paper trail. Keep a list of comments, practices, and/or behaviors that feel like age discrimination to you. If possible, substantiate your experience with documents, schedules, and/or files. Be factual and organized.
* Speak to others in your organization who may have had a similar concern. Find out how they handled the situation. What can you learn from their experience?
* When you have done your homework, present your concerns to your supervisor and/or your human resources representative. Remind him/her of the laws against age discrimination and ask what will be done about the situation. Be prepared to be asked to have a meeting with the individual(s) whom you believe have been practicing age discrimination. While this may be uncomfortable, be open to this suggestion. Your participation not only shows your willingness to actively engage in this process of resolution, but it allows the offending party the opportunity to explain his/her actions. (This kind of exchange is an opportunity for great learning. Be brave! Express yourself respectfully and directly. Be open to what you may hear. Remember, the only way discrimination of any kind can ever change is if we educate one another.)
* If this meeting fails to result in satisfactory action, it may be time to exercise your legal rights. You may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in discrimination cases. Sometimes, simply receiving a letter outlining potential legal offenses is enough to bring about change.
* If this action fails to bring about satisfactory change, know that you have 180 days from the date of the discriminating act to file your charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The charges need to be filed in a prescribed form and include details such as: identity the offending party; description of exactly happened; when the offense occurred; who witnessed or can substantiate your claim; and contact information. Again, while not entirely necessary, a lawyer can help you with this part of the process.
* If the wrong is still not remedied, you have the final option of suing the offending party. Remember, proving age discrimination is difficult and complicated but that never means that you are not worth pursuing every avenue to stop this unjust practice.