Age discrimination in the workplace is illegal under both federal and California law. Some people may think of age discrimination as terminating or refusing to hire an employee because of his or her age, but discrimination can encompass much more than that.
Age discrimination laws protect employees and prospective employees who are at least 40 years old. California law provides remedies to employees who are affected by actions that may seem impartial at first glance but that have the effect of targeting older employees indirectly, such as terminating employees who earn the most money, which are typically the older, more experienced employees. Discrimination can also include a refusal to promote an employee because of his or her age. If a younger, less experienced employee receives a promotion over an older employee, the older employee may want to speak with an employment attorney about whether the conduct could constitute discrimination.
Employers also discriminate against employees by marginalizing them, which includes excluding them from meetings or conversations about relevant work topics. Employers may also marginalize older employees by giving them less important work assignments, particularly those that are well below the employees’ pay grade.
Employees may be attuned to more obvious adjectives used to describe employees over a certain age, like “old” or “grandma,” but they should also keep an ear open for other, less apparent words or phrases. For instance, if an employer says that an older employee seems “tired” or “worn out,” this could be evidence that the employer views the employee as less valuable or important because of his or her age. If an employer uses these types of descriptors to criticize an older employee as opposed to commenting on something performance-based, an employee may want to ask an employment attorney if the employer is committing discrimination.