Author`s name Alex Sanders

Is it legal to be fired because of your age?

What comes to mind when you think of workplace discrimination? 

If you're like most people, factors like race, gender, or even religion come to mind. But did you know that age is also a protected class? And if you suspect your employer has treated you differently because of your age, you may have legal grounds to file an age discrimination case.

What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination is any situation where an employer treats an applicant or employee less favorably because of their age. More specifically, it protects people over the age of 40.

"It doesn't matter what your age was when you were hired," Wrongful Termination Law Group mentions. "The important thing to keep in mind is that we have to show that you were treated differently than younger workers, or that you were harassed, based on your age."

According to AARP, 64 percent of workers, or roughly two out of three employees, has witnessed or experienced some form of age discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, proving age discrimination can often be challenging, but an experienced attorney can help you uncover the facts and form a strong case.

4 Signs You've Been Discriminated Against

Age discrimination in the workplace isn't always as cut and dry as most people might think. Thus it's helpful to understand which factors are often at play. Here's a quick rundown of some signs you've been discriminated against:

1. Changing of the Guards

Age discrimination doesn't usually happen in isolation. When it occurs, there's generally a larger movement. You might call it a changing of the guards. 

During a changing of the guards, an employer will start to hire younger employees who are all basically the same age and who possess a very similar mindset. Likewise, more experienced/veteran employees will start to see their responsibilities and opportunities dwindle. Employers will often use words like "culture fit" or "changing priorities" to mask what's really happening.

2. Unpleasant Job Reassignment

Age discrimination doesn't always take on the form of termination. Sometimes you'll simply be reassigned to a less desirable position with fewer opportunities. (It's usually a position you're overqualified for.) In reassigning you, the employer is secretly hoping that you'll leave the company and pursue employment elsewhere. In doing so, they believe they can solve the problem without technically having to terminate you.

3. Rude and Insensitive Comments

Not all employers are secretive in their discrimination. Rude and insensitive comments such as these make their intentions pretty clear:

  • Jack - have you given any thought to retirement yet?
  • If I was your age, I'd be packing up my office and spending time at the beach.
  • I think you should hand some of those duties off to someone else, Sheryl. You're getting to a point where you should probably think about taking it easy.
  • Hey Bill, we're going to start giving these opportunities to some of the less experienced folks on the team. We feel we need to get them some real-world learning opportunities. Why don't you sit this one out?

Have you ever heard comments like these? While context is everything, these may be indicators of age discrimination. And though it's hard to prove discrimination when it's just words, words combined with other behaviors and actions can strengthen your claim that an employer is discriminating against you based on your age.

4. Plummeting Performance Reviews

Employers understand the legal implications of discrimination and will get creative in an effort to disguise what's really happening. One of the ways they do this is by giving out bad performance reviews.

If you've been getting fours on all of your performance reviews for years and then suddenly get a bunch of ones in a short period of time (and with no rhyme or reason), this could be a sign that your employer is trying to justify terminating you. They're basically covering their tracks.

The good news is that the courts tend to be very suspicious of sudden shifts in performance reviews when there's no logical explanation. Keep meticulous notes and bring this to the attention of your attorney.

Putting it All Together

As previously mentioned, proving age-based discrimination can be a real challenge. Trying to do it on your own will almost certainly make the situation worse. For best results, consult with an experienced employment lawyer to understand your options before making any claims. This will increase your chances of obtaining a positive outcome.