In California, workers over the age of 40 are technically protected from age-related discrimination thanks to both federal and state laws. This doesn’t mean age discrimination in the workplace never occurs.
On the contrary, this is becoming an increasingly significant problem. For example, according to a recent AARP study, approximately two out of every three workers aged 45 and older believe they’ve experienced age discrimination at work or have witnessed others experiencing it. Compared to the results of past AARP surveys, this indicates ageism is becoming more prevalent, not less.
Ageism is a growing problem in this country for various reasons. One of them is the fact that employers are finding ways to discriminate against older applicants and employees that may be relatively subtle.
For instance, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, employers may not use language in job postings that suggest older candidates need not apply. However, there are no universal and objective standards regarding whether certain phrases or words are the types that could tell an older job-seeker they shouldn’t bother submitting an application.
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College notes that some types of language in job postings could imply an employer is looking for younger people to hire. An example of this would be a job posting that states a company is seeking an “energetic” person to fill a role. Although energetic doesn’t literally mean “youthful,” there’s no denying that many equate energy with youth.
Additionally, some job postings reference technologies and platforms that older job applicants might not be familiar with. There are instances when doing so is justified because a candidate might simply need to know how to use a certain tool to perform certain tasks. That said, in some cases, job postings reference platforms and tools not because a person needs to be familiar with those tools to fill a role, but because the person writing the posting knows that mentioning them could intimidate an older person and deter them from applying to the position.
Research also confirms that the language used in a job posting can directly impact whether older job-seekers will apply. In one study, researchers from the University of Liverpool and the University of California at Irvine published two sets of fake job postings for the same positions. One set used age-neutral language, while another set used language that could indicate an employer was looking for young candidates. The results of the study showed that older people were significantly less likely to respond to job postings featuring ageist language.
Again, ageism is against the law. That means you might have grounds to take legal action against a potential employer if you notice they’ve been taking steps like writing youth-centric job postings to avoid hiring older workers.
Just understand that proving an employer is guilty of ageism can be a challenge. To build a strong case, you need legal representation.