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Understanding Age Discrimination Laws in Santa Barbara, California

Protecting Your Property in a High Asset Divorce

In the US, certain personal details about a person are protected from impacting their job. In the defense of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it has been made illegal to deny people job opportunities in ways that have typically been used to deny these inalienable rights.

One such right is the right to work after the age of 40. You have the right to fair employment, training, opportunities, and compensation compared to colleagues who are below the age of 40. If it can be proven that an employee has been making discriminatory decisions to exclude or disadvantage employees based on their over-40 age status, the employer will be liable for losses and may be subject to fines and sanctions.

Let’s explore the age discrimination laws that apply to California employers and how to identify incidents of illegal workplace age discrimination in Santa Barbara, CA.

Age Discrimination Laws in California

Federal Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA)

Age discrimination is a long-standing problem in the business world that was particularly profound when the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in the mid 1960s. While medical care and the arc of aging have improved since that time, many workplaces will refuse to hire, promote, or share opportunities with a person they see coming with “risks” or “burdens” of one’s later middle years and beyond.

This is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

California Fair Employment and Housing Act

In the state of California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act also protects the employment rights of older professionals. However, California has a lighter burden of proof on the employee when proving that age was a major contributing factor to disadvantageous decision making.

How is Illegal Age Discrimination Defined?

There are many types of discrimination based on age, but illegal age discrimination has a specific definition. In the US and the state of California, it is illegal to limit the opportunities of a person based on them being older, or based on their age if they are over 40. Age discrimination occurs any time employees younger than 40 are favored for reasons that relate to age, or if older employees are denied opportunities, harassed, or treated poorly due to being older than 40.

Burden of Proof

In California, you must only prove that age is a major contributing factor. If you or someone you know is being denied opportunities or targeted for harassment due to their age, and they are 40 or older, then illegal age discrimination has likely occurred.

The Aged vs Aged Exception

There are a few nuances to the protection of age discrimination. For example, if one person is favored over another based on age, but both are over 40, the policy may not apply. 

Reverse Age Discrimination: Not Illegal

Reverse age discrimination is also completely legal, though may cross other lines. If older workers are being favored over younger workers or younger workers are being denied opportunities based on having an age below 40, this is legal according to the EEOC. 

However, if harassment of any type is taking place and discrimination against youth is merely one of the motivating factors, you may still have a case.

Matters of Retirement

Lastly, retirement also has a unique set of rules when it comes to age discrimination. If a person is already retired and their retirement plan is active, an employer may make financial decisions based on this fact. If a person has stated a planned schedule to retire, an employer may not assign them projects that extend beyond that point. However, an employer may not simply imply that an older employee might soon retire as a reason for decision-making.

What Age Discrimination Looks Like in the Workplace

How do you spot signs of workplace age discrimination when you see them? Whether you are looking out for yourself or others in your workplace, it’s important to know the signs of discrimination. If your manager or employer is showing the following patterns based on a foundation of disadvantaging or denying people who are older than 40 (or an arbitrary age above 40) then workplace age discrimination may be taking place, and it may be your duty to decide the next steps to take.

Denial of Promotions or Opportunities

Some employers refuse to promote aged employees out of a false assumption that they cannot handle the pressure of specific or higher roles. Along the same lines, it is common to see older employees denied opportunities to take the lead on projects or to prove their skills in certain industries.

However, if you see someone being passed by for promotion, always check with them first. Some people refuse promotions because they enjoy their current workload and are fine with their pay.

Unfavorable Pattern of Task Assignment

If the older employees are always getting the least favorable tasks, tasks no one else wants or tasks that specifically disadvantage their career prospects, this can be a sign of age discrimination. But again, ask the person first. They may have requested the work no one else likes because they prefer or don’t mind it, earning brownie points and helping the team.

Using Approaching Retirement as an Excuse

The phrase “Well [colleague] is probably going to retire soon, so we shouldn’t give them [x]” is always a red flag. Assuming that someone will retire has become a form of age discrimination, as many professionals choose to work well past their 60s and many non-labor jobs can be done aptly as long as one remains sharp and capable.

The exceptions are if a person has already activated their retirement and the decision is related to financial plans or someone who is already making plans to hand off their duties for an officially scheduled retirement.

Teasing or Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment is never acceptable, and the boundaries for what can be tolerated decrease when it encroaches on EEOC-protected statuses including gender, culture, religion, and being aged over 40. If a person is charmed at being called the “Office Mom/Dad” that is fine. But if they are being ridiculed, treated poorly, or if their requests for reference to their age to stop have not ceased, they are being harassed and the entire workplace is liable for age discrimination violations.

Consistently Hiring Only Younger Applicants

If you notice that your workplace consistently denies applicants over a certain age, this can also be a red flag. If all or most of your workforce is under the age of 40, if your job descriptions have age-indicator keywords like “college graduate” or “youthful energy” in the description, or if you just never seem to hire the older applicants, there may be an issue.

When It’s Not Workplace Age Discrimination, But It Still Violates the EEOC

We’d also like to give an honorable mention to matters where you may see age-related discrimination, but the legally actionable violation is of a slightly different law. This can also help you deal with matters of “reverse” age discrimination where the young colleagues are being targeted instead.

Disability Discrimination

The same employers who are prone to age discrimination – up or down – are also more likely to violate disability discrimination protections, as well. For example, they may discriminate against anyone who needs mobility compensation – which targets older employees but may include a few disabled colleagues below 40 years of age, as well. Discrimination against disabilities or refusal to accommodate also violates the EEOC.

Family Status Discrimination

A workplace may discriminate against parents or people with an ill family member who sometimes requires them to use sick leave and FLMA for non-personal illnesses. This, too, can appear as a pattern of targeting the elderly until examination reveals that it is discrimination against all people with family responsibilities outside of work. This is family status discrimination and against the EEOC.

Cultural Discrimination

Lastly, discrimination against a mostly-elderly population of employees may even be cultural. For example, some cultures see manual or retail work to be a lifetime career while others see it as work for the young. It may be revealed that a manager mistreating older colleagues is actually targeting them for cultural differences that coincide with maintaining a certain role at a later age.

What to Do If You Encounter Workplace Age Discrimination in California

If you have seen or experienced workplace age discrimination in Santa Barbara, CA or similar EEOC violations from your employer – or a friend of yours is in a similar situation – don’t hesitate to reach out to a Santa Barbara employment attorney and explore your options to hold the abusive employer accountable.

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