We all appreciate a friendly jab every once in awhile—it’s a sign of friendship in a lot of communities. However, when the joking continues for extended periods of time and creates a potentially hostile environment, it becomes harassment. Most people are familiar with sexual harassment, but an aging workforce has also led to another problem: ageism and age harassment.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: your younger coworkers refer to you as “grandpa” or “grandma,” call you the “mom” or “dad” of the office, or even call you “old man.” When there’s a task that needs doing, you often hear jokes about how you need to take it easy or let someone younger handle it.
On a case-by-case basis, these moments may seem harmless, but they’re not. Workers above the age of 40 are a protected class, and it is illegal to discriminate against any employee on the basis of their age. When coworkers relentlessly and consistently target your age for humor’s sake, they’re creating a hostile environment that can leave you excluded when serious business decisions need to be made.
When Harassment Isn’t a Joke
You’re preparing your morning coffee, ready to begin your day, when your boss walks into the office kitchen. He or she asks how you’re doing, you return the question, and you chat for a little bit. It’s all normal small talk, but then your boss drops the big question:
“So, have you been thinking about retirement?”
It’s an innocent question, right? Perhaps not. If your employer is asking about retirement, they are likely thinking about how or when they’re going to replace you. More importantly, they’re perhaps thinking that your age is now a factor in your employment. Unless they’re considering giving you a raise based on your seniority, that type of thinking is dangerous for you.
Consider an even more innocent scenario. You’ve volunteered to take on a project or a task that’s a little demanding, but no more demanding than other projects you’ve handled in the past. Younger employees take on projects all the time, and you have experience on your side. That’s when a coworker or higher-up takes you aside and asks:
“Wouldn’t [younger, less experienced coworker] be more suited for this task?”
Perhaps your coworker is your friend, and they’re sincerely wondering about your limits—even so, good intentions do not make harassment legal. If you’re being targeted for your age in work-related activities, even social or casual ones, that’s illegal and unethical. You deserve better treatment, and a lawyer is one of the best ways to protect yourself from age harassment.
What You Can Do
First of all, make your voice heard. Create a record of each incident, where and when it happened, and who witnessed it. Include it even if it was an off-the-cuff joke—humor is the most common form of harassment. If a moment bothered you, it’s worth including. Once your HR department has a record of it, you’ll protect yourself by a.) putting an ageism complaint in writing, and b.) insulating yourself from termination thanks to employment laws regarding retaliation.
Secondly, call a Los Angeles employment law attorney. As a Harvard-educated employment lawyer with more than 30 years’ experience, I am well-equipped to handle discrimination cases all over Los Angeles County. Call (310) 986-2792 to speak with me in a free case consultation today.