As the economy has faltered in recent years, age discrimination claims have increased exponentially. This is due in no small part to the fact that many struggling companies have employed large-scale downsizing of more experienced workers (who command more benefits and higher wages) in favor of upstarts who will work for proverbial "slave" wages. Once you have been downsized or forced into early retirement, though, it can be very difficult, as an older worker, to find a comparable job.
Some people think that being discriminated against because of their age is something they have to accept. They may not realize that both New Jersey state laws and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) specifically prohibit employers from discriminating against workers or subjecting them to harassment solely on the basis of their age. These anti-discrimination laws cover every aspect of employment, from the application process to promotions and from merit increases to retirement.
An important caveat: age discrimination cases are generally limited to employees over the age of 40, but "reverse" age discrimination is also being reported, where someone faces adverse employment action because he or she appears too young.
Proving age discrimination
The most difficult about age discrimination cases - and other types of discrimination and harassment cases as well - is proving them. Oftentimes, what feels like age discrimination to an employee or job candidate can be explained by a legitimate business purpose like overall restructuring, poor performance (of a current worker) or a more qualified applicant getting a position instead. Even then, though, the decisions cannot be made primarily because of the age of the affected person, just as they couldn't be made because of the person's gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or country of origin.
That being said, it is still necessary to prove that discrimination is occurring in your New Jersey workplace before a claim will be successful. Proof can take several different forms, though. For example, having direct proof like video or audio recordings of discriminatory or harassing behavior on the part of a manager or co-worker makes a huge impact on the judge or jury who might ultimately hear the allegations. Other valuable forms of proof include:
- Hand-written notes describing the discrimination (or harassment, including age-oriented jokes or comments), complete with as many details as possible, the date and the time the incident(s) occurred
- Copies of emails, memos, notes, jokes or posters detailing some form of harassment or bias
- Statements from co-workers who witnessed incidents of harassment or discrimination
- Evidence that the worker being discriminated against was left out of company events like lunch meetings, happy hours, seminars, training opportunities, etc.
- Company or department organization charts showing the younger or less-experienced workers were consistently promoted above an equally performing (or better-performing) older worker
Making the harassment or discrimination stop
Even if you don't have much proof at hand, you don't have to stand for age-based discrimination in your workplace. Filing a formal complaint with your manager - or with human resources if your manager or another superior is the one discriminating against you - is usually the first step in the process that could also entail filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, filing a lawsuit or taking the case to trial before a judge or jury.
To find out more about the types of employment-related actions considered harassing or discriminatory under the law, and to determine if you may have a valid claim or age discrimination, speak with an experienced New Jersey employment law attorney.