11 Ways to Identify Age Discrimination in the Workplace [+ FAQs]

May 22, 2018


In 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed to protect people from age discrimination in the workplace. While this was a very positive step toward protecting workers’ rights, age discrimination and harassment still occur in every industry and sector today.

According to AARP, the following statistics are true for workers between the ages of 45 and 74:

  • 1 out of 5 say they have been turned down for a job because of their age.
  • 2 out of 3 say they have seen age discrimination in the workplace.
  • 1 out of 10 say they were passed up for a promotion, laid off, or denied access to career development because of their age.

There also seem to be gender differences when it comes to age discrimination. In the same age group as the above statistics, 72% of women said they think people face age discrimination at work while only 57% of men agreed.

Equally troubling is the idea of what is considered “old” among employees, especially for employers in Silicon Valley where age discrimination appears magnified. In this tech world, the average age of workers is a full 10 years younger than the national average, and workers over the age of 35 may have a hard time landing a job due to their “old” age.

If you are concerned that you may be experiencing age discrimination in the workplace, you may be right. Here are 11 signs that your employer may be illegally discriminating against you due to your age.

1. Facing Harassment Based on Your Age

If your employer is making fun of you, calling you names, or continually harassing you about your age or about age-related matters, it is possible that he/she is trying to get you to quit. It is much easier for a company to have an employee quit than to fire them — especially when the reason for termination (your age) is illegal.

2. Seeing a Pattern of Hiring Only Younger Employees

As previously mentioned, there is a pattern in Silicon Valley. The majority of employees hired are young. Here are the median ages for some popular companies as reported by Business Insider in 2017:


CompanyMedian Age
LinkedIn & Salesforce29
Apple & Amazon31
Adobe & Microsoft33






Silicon Valley is not the only area where younger employees are hired over older employees. If you notice a pattern at your company of only the young being hired, you could be onto something. Many employers will never say it, but they are specifically looking for younger workers, often due to unfounded misconceptions about ability, work pace, knowledge, and sociability.

An employer’s use of the term “overqualified” may be a sign of age discrimination. It is unlawful for an employer not to hire an experienced older person based solely on the assumption that they might become bored or dissatisfied and leave the job.

3. Hearing Age-Related Remarks

Employers or managers who make age-related remarks or speak to you in a demeaning tone for no reason may be hovering on the line of harassment. While not quite there yet, their behavior can signal a larger issue.

As Time reported, “Even those oldest boomers not held back professionally because of age may experience something called micro-aggressions, which are ‘brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative slights and insults to the target person or group,’ according to research out of Columbia University.”

4. Getting Turned Down For a Promotion

If you have been turned down for a promotion that ended up going to a younger worker that was less qualified, you have may have evidence of age discrimination. If you can show a pattern of older workers being overlooked for promotions that typically go to younger workers with no evidence of the decisions being based on merit, your case for age discrimination will gain a lot of clout.

What can you do if you have faced age discrimination? Get a free case assessment to learn your options.

5. Being Overlooked for Challenging Work Assignments

One way employers may attempt to force older employees out is by “lightening the load,” or removing challenging work and projects from their plate. This tactic frustrates and demoralizes the worker while making them look less useful and valuable to the broader organization. This perpetuates the myth that older workers are not as knowledgeable and are less capable.

6. Becoming Isolated or Left Out

Similar to the previous point, employers or managers may begin to remove you from meetings, leave you out of decisions, and may even isolate your desk location away from your department or group, thereby making it more difficult for you to contribute and be a valuable part of the team.

Going a step further, they may ask you to work from home or relocate you to a different office altogether — possibly even to another state or location that would cause a major disruption in your life.

7. Being Encouraged or Forced to Retire

Oftentimes companies will offer retirement packages to older employees as an incentive to retire. These packages are typically hard to turn down for employees. Even if an employee turns down a retirement package and the option to retire, there is no saying that the company will not go ahead and fire them anyway.

Similarly, although unlawful today, some companies try to enact a mandatory retirement age. Enforcing a mandatory retirement age is only legal in a limited number of specific professions, such as law enforcement and firefighting.

8. Experiencing Layoffs

Layoffs happen at companies of all shapes and sizes. But if your company is only laying off older employees, you may be able to prove age discrimination.

Because layoffs have many legal requirements, companies are typically smart enough to dilute layoff groups by including a sampling of younger employees in the mix as well.

9. Having Your Position Eliminated

This is an all-too-common practice at companies throughout the country: eliminating a job by changing the job title. If an employer says that your job is being eliminated but then hires a younger employee to work in the same capacity as you only with a different title, this is possible evidence of age discrimination.

10. Receiving an Employment Improvement Plan

Being put on an employee improvement plan is never a good sign. If you have had strong reviews and have no history of poor performance, being suddenly put on an employment improvement plan is a strong sign that your employer is looking for a “legal” way to fire you.

11. Facing Unfair Discipline

All employees should be treated equally. If you seem to receive harsher criticism or discipline than your co-workers for similar issues or mistakes, this can be a subtle sign of age discrimination.

Age Discrimination Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who does the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protect?
A: The ADEA protects certain job applications and workers who are at least 40 years old from discrimination based on age in hiring, promotion, termination, compensation, and terms of employment.

The ADEA applies to employers with at least 20 employees, labor organizations with at least 25 members, employment agencies, and federal, local, and state governments. Independent contractors and military personnel are not protected under the ADEA, and every state will have its own laws for protecting older workers.

Q: Can an employer ask my age during a job interview?
A: Currently, it is legal for employers to ask your age and/or your graduation date. This includes prospective employers asking for this information during a job interview.

Q: Is age discrimination common?
A: According to AARP, 1 in 5 of the discrimination claims received by the EEOC are related to age discrimination.

Q: What can I do if I have been discriminated against because of my age?
A: You can file a claim with the EEOC and you can also work with a lawyer to file a lawsuit. It is always best to consult with a lawyer first. Many offer free consultations and will help you assess your options.

There is no doubt that age discrimination in the United States is a major issue, especially as more and more baby boomers enter their later years and the demographics of the country put a large majority in the over-55 age bracket. Not only is age discrimination wrong but the reasons employers’ practice it are based on unfounded assumptions. In fact, there are often more benefits to hiring older workers than there are drawbacks.

At Sherman Law, we have been protecting workers rights for over 25 years. If you feel that you are facing age discrimination in the workplace it is important that you retain experienced employment counsel who can help you navigate the law and stand up for your rights. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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