Am I Being Targeted For Layoff Due To My Age?

Here are four signals that could mean you're a victim of age discrimination

(This article appeared previously on AOL Jobs.com)

Do you think you've been a victim of age discrimination at your workplace, as the following AOL Jobs reader does?

I am 61 and work for a large company in Ohio where there are 50 or so employees with my job title working at various locations. The company has decided to eliminate all but 15 of those positions. The company first examined our work history; anyone with disciplinary actions was eliminated from the pool. We were informed some positions had been filled, and yesterday “group interviews” were conducted. 

The union negotiated a severance package, one week's pay for each year served, the company will continue to pay benefits for three months and they will not contest unemployment benefits. I have been informed by my department head they may offer a lesser-paying position if I am not among those chosen. Should I be permitted to choose between a lesser-paying job and the severance package?

Older employees, along with the disabled and pregnant employees, are the most targeted employees in layoffs. There seems to be an assumption that the “old guys” will be retiring soon anyhow, so it doesn't matter. It does. Targeting older employees is illegal.

How can you tell if you were selected due to your age? Four factors to consider:
  • Comments: If your boss makes comments about age, that's direct evidence of age discrimination. Referring to older employees as “geezer,” “old man” or “pops” may indicate age discrimination. It can be more subtle. Saying the company wants a “young image,” asking questions about your energy level or saying you may not be able to keep up with the new changes can all be evidence of age discrimination.
  • Different treatment: If you are selected as one of the employees to be laid off but younger, less-qualified employees are kept on, that is also evidence of age discrimination. Let's say the position requires a certification. You have it, but the younger employee is working to get it. You're more qualified. Seniority can also be a measure of your qualifications. If you've been in the position for 20 years with all good reviews and the younger employee has only held the job for a year, that's a good indication that age discrimination is occurring.
  • Different options: If you are told you have to take the severance, where younger employees are given the option of stepping down to a lower-paying position, then that could also be age discrimination.
  • Disparate discipline: Since the company is looking at disciplinary history, if you are suddenly targeted for discipline for picky things that younger employees also do and aren't disciplined for, that is another sign that you are being targeted due to age.

On the issue of stepping down versus taking the severance package, that's a decision you need to weigh carefully.

If your retirement benefit (assuming you work for the rare company that still has one) is measured by your last year or several years' pay, you may want to go for the severance. On the other hand, if you aren't vested or can't retire yet and only have a few years left, stepping down may be the best option. This might be a good time to meet with your accountant or a financial planner to discuss the best options for you.

If you think you're being targeted due to your age, talk to an employment lawyer in your state. Sometimes age discrimination can give you leverage to negotiate a better severance package.
Donna Ballman is a author, employment lawyer and AOL Jobs contributor. Her books include Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards and The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers. She also writes the award-winning blog on employee-side, employment law issues, Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home.
Donna Ballman
By Donna Ballman
Donna Ballman is an employment lawyer in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and the author of Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired. She has written for AOL Jobs and Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @EmployeeAtty.

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