You’ve been denied a promotion at work in favor of a younger candidate. You’ve lost your job and don’t really know why. You feel you’re being treated unfairly.
When you’re older, your first thought in the face of these apparent injustices tends to be, “Whoa! Is this age discrimination?”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 3.4 million employees or 11.5 percent of the workforce was 65 years of age and older in the year 2000. By 2009, that number had increased to 6 million or 16.1 percent of the workforce. (Click to see Census Bureau charts on the aging workforce.)
As the workplace aged and the economy tanked, age discrimination cases increased.
Given the employment landscape, if you suspect discrimination – and especially if you’ve been laid off – your inclination might be to file a lawsuit against your employer. Your likely first step: call a lawyer, who is likely to tell you that you might have a case.
But you could take a different route: mediation. Amy Lieberman, an employment lawyer and full-time mediator in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the author of “Mediation Success: Get It Out, Get It Over, and Get Back to Business,” says age-discrimination lawsuits can cost more than $100,000 and drag on for years. “Litigation is costly and destructive,” she says, “but mediation is an alternative that will save all parties money, lessen the emotional damage, and reduce conflict.”
How Mediation Works
When it works, which mediators say is between 90 and 95 percent of the time, the process speeds up resolution. It’s a process in which the employer and employee sit down together and then apart to work toward a solution with a neutral third party acting as a go-between.
“People who do best in mediation,” says Bette Roth, a former lawyer and now a full-time mediator and lecturer at Boston University School of Law, “are those who are willing to listen to the other side, can be flexible, and are focused on ways that a resolution could help them to move forward.”
Lieberman says educated, informed people will choose to resolve a conflict in mediation if they can come away feeling whole and respected. Sometimes, she says, the party that feels harmed is simply looking for an apology or recognition of worth. “A lawsuit is a ‘win-lose’ proposition,” says Lieberman, “and while mediation may not be a ‘win-win,’” she continues, it’s a ‘can live with-can live with’ opportunity to be heard and understood.”
How to Get Started
If you’re still employed and your company has a human resources department, you should notify HR of your complaint. The law obligates them to investigate. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In every case, the first step is to file a complaint. Be aware, though, that once you’ve accepted a severance package, the case is closed and mediation is no longer an option.
But Wait – Is This Really Discrimination?
Much as you might suspect discrimination, it’s hard to take any action to protect yourself when you’re not really sure. So, how do you know if what you’re experiencing probably is discriminatory? Here are some things to watch for.
- Have you seen a pattern of older people being displaced by younger workers?
- Has your work evaluation gone from excellent to not very good?
- Has your salary been lowered, or have you repeatedly been passed over in favor of younger people for the promotion you know you deserve?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, you may indeed be experiencing age discrimination at work.
For more information and to search for a professional mediator, click here to visit the mediate website.
Have you ever suspected you’re being discriminated against at work? Got any tips? Share your knowledge in the comments area by scrolling down.