Recognizing the Signs of Age Discrimination in a Dismissal
Age discrimination, or ageism, unfortunately impacts a great number of older employees in the workplace. Aging employees can face numerous types of discrimination, including unwarranted charged comments, exclusion from company events, or being passed over for promotions or raises.
In some cases, age discrimination can contribute to your dismissal. If you are an older employee with a strong performance record, you may be wondering if you have been wrongfully terminated on account of ageism. Below, we review 5 signs age discrimination may have unlawfully contributed to your losing your job.
Sign #1: Your Position was “Eliminated”
When employers are looking to release an older employee while avoiding accusations of age discrimination, they may claim a position is being outright “eliminated” in an effort to save costs. This may seem innocent on its surface, but sometimes the company will subsequently introduce a new role with similar or identical job responsibilities. Often, this role will be filled by a younger employee.
This practice is unlawful, as the “elimination” of the position only exists to circumvent claims an older employee is being pushed out, despite no performance-related reason for doing so, only to be replaced by a younger employee doing effectively the same job. Detecting this form of ageism requires vigilance on the part of the person dismissed, as companies can sometimes go to great lengths to conceal the bait and switch.
For example, say you are the Senior Coordinator at a Marketing Firm. You are over 50 years-old and bring the company years of institutional experience, meaning you resultantly command a large salary. You are told your position is being eliminated despite a series of positive performance reviews; you may even be offered a severance package. However, you notice a younger employer who is only 30 years-old has been placed in a newly created role, the Senior Manager, which appears to have all of the same responsibilities. This employee is paid significantly less given the lesser experience. In this case, it is likely you have been a victim of age discrimination.
Sign #2: Your Performance Reviews Abruptly Suffer
An early warning sign of a forthcoming dismissal is souring evaluations in performance reviews or evaluations. If you suddenly and seemingly arbitrarily begin receiving poor scores and comments, your company may be looking for a justification to fire you. This strategy can be especially damaging for workers, as officially, there is a company-endorsed paper trail of declining work performance that theoretically precludes age discrimination in a firing decision.
It is important to emphasize that the quality of your work must remain constant when considering the role of work evaluations. If your performance actually declined in the events leading up to your firing, it may be fair for your evaluation scores to drop.
If your job does not typically perform regular job reviews but abruptly decides to initiate them, be sure to understand if the new reviews apply to anyone, or just you (or other older employees). Introducing targeted job evaluations is another method companies will use to justify dismissing older employees on paper.
Consider an example where you are an older employee who has worked at a company for a long period of time. Work evaluations are not routine, but new leadership announces they will be introduced. Despite strong job performance consistent with your past few years of employment, you are surprised that your evaluation comes back predominantly negative. Weeks later, you are dismissed, with the company citing “poor performance” as the reason. More than likely, your company was attempting to find a reason to get rid of you, especially if you had a high salary.
If a company has already made the decision they are going to try and eliminate you, there is only so much you can do. However, you can take steps to protect yourself. Ask thorough questions in job evaluations, especially if your scores do not appear to reflect the quality of your work. Request copies of the results and register any objections in writing.
Sign #3: Your Company Appears to be Almost Exclusively Hiring Young Employees
When a company experiences a top-down leadership change, new executives may decide they want to “clean house” and replace existing employees with younger alternatives. Other times, a company may aim to “shift their culture” by changing the types of employees they hire and cultivate. Both of these scenarios, and situations like them, can often be prerequisites for age discrimination.
It is important to be aware of the age makeup of your company in the events leading up to and after your dismissal. If you notice the company appears to only be hiring younger employees, they may be engaging in age discrimination by systematically removing older employees before “replacing” them with younger ones.
Sometimes, a company might wait to hire new younger employees until older employees are eliminated to avoid suspicion. Other times, these efforts are concealed in the form of layoffs. Older employees might be told they are being let go because their compensation is too high, or that the company is moving in a “new direction.” If layoffs are preceded or followed by hiring waves of younger employees, there is likely some form of ageism afoot. However, many companies are aware of this perception and will lay off a handful of younger employees to protect themselves from scrutiny.
Sign #4: Your Company Has a History of Dismissing Older Employees
Age discrimination can occur without being fired, but a company culture that does not respect older employees day-to-day can serve as a warning sign to larger, imminent problems, including job security. Ageism manifests in various ways, both obvious and subtle.
Some examples of ageism in the workplace include:
- Jokes or comments explicitly or implicitly targeting a person’s age or ability to keep up
- Being excluded from company events and meetings, especially if they are otherwise dominated by younger employees
- Being overlooked for challenging assignments under the assumption you will be unable to efficiently complete them
- Being omitted from company career advancement endeavors
If your boss is enabling or refusing to address inappropriate behavior on their part or that of your peers, they are contributing to an ageist workplace. Remember, age is a protected class, and you cannot legally be retaliated against for raising concerns about age discrimination.
Consider raising polite but firm objections to ageist comments and practices. It is possible that your colleagues and/or boss are not even aware they are saying something offensive. If they still refuse to adjust their behavior, you may need to prepare for an escalation, up to and including wrongful termination. If you can establish your workplace refused to denounce ageism, you may have a better case in arguing you were wrongfully terminated.
Sign #5: You Were Offered a Buyout or Retirement Package Before Being Dismissed
If you have been at a job for many years or even decades, there may come a time where your boss offers you a “buyout” of an employment agreement or a retirement package before you are necessarily ready to voluntarily depart. It is not unlawful for your employee to offer buyouts or retirement packages to older employees. Companies have various legitimate reasons for wanting to do so, including facilitating a complete executive leadership change and reducing long-term payroll costs.
What is important to understand is your employer cannot require you to accept a buyout or retirement package. They also cannot pressure or intimidate you into accepting. Regardless of any generous financial incentives they may offer, you have the right to refuse a package. The departure involved must be voluntary, so a company cannot legally say you must accept the offer or be dismissed.
If a company is attempting to buy you out or compel you to retire, they likely do not want you to maintain your current position in the company. Should you steadfastly refuse their offers, they will likely look to other means of forcing you out, including potentially some of the unlawful methods discussed above. Therefore, you should remain alert to any potential acts of age discrimination in the weeks following the offer. If you are eventually terminated, consider consulting an employment lawyer, who can help determine if you have a case.
We Can Help You Fight Wrongful Termination
Our attorney at Limonjyan Law Group focuses his efforts on fighting for California employee rights, including assisting with wrongful termination suits. We understand ageism in the workplace is a pernicious problem that many refuse to even recognize, and we are determined to do whatever it takes to get you the justice you deserve.
If you believe you have suffered wrongful termination as a result of age discrimination, call (213) 377-6707 or contact our team online to get started with a free consultation.