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Age discrimination down, but continuing as workforce gets older

As people live longer, healthier lives, more remain in the workforce into their senior years. Many also continue working or seeking work because they're not in a financial position to retire.

The experience and skills brought by older workers can be valuable to employers, and many smart businesses realize that. As the workforce ages, as an attorney with the AARP Foundation Litigation notes, "there continues to be progress in understanding of the capabilities of older workers."

The good news is that the normalization of older people in the workforce seems to have helped reduce age discrimination claims. Employers are seeing that older workers can be just as tech savvy, creative and adaptable as their younger counterparts.

Another factor may be that as the economy recovers, employers are less likely to cut older, higher-paid workers in favor of younger, lower-paid ones for budgetary reasons. Last year saw over 4,000 fewer complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission than at the height of the recession in 2008.

Nonetheless, the EEOC is still receiving more than 20,000 complaints of age discrimination annually. Discrimination against workers over 40 based on age is prohibited under federal law.

Proving this discrimination, whether it's in hiring or terminations, can be tricky. Few employers are foolish enough to tell someone that they aren't being hired based on their age or that their being fired because of it. If a worker has been openly discriminated against or mocked in the workplace due to age, that can make a case easier to prove.

There is evidence that older people generally have a more difficult time getting hired -- particularly women. A recent AARP study using fictional job applicants found that the older the applicant, the less likely they were to get a positive response.

People who believe they have been discriminated against based on age, whether in being hired, promoted, terminated or simply in their everyday work lives should be diligent about documenting all words (verbal and written) and actions that provide evidence of this discrimination.

Even if there is no such hard evidence, an investigation may find a pattern of discriminatory behavior by a company against older workers. A California employment law attorney can provide guidance in helping determine whether you have a case.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Workforce keeps aging, but it doesn't mean age discrimination cases disappear," Gary Rotstein, Oct. 31, 2016

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