It has been banned by law for a long time and yet it is still happening: companies that discriminate in any way whatsoever against age. Last year in the Netherlands alone for example, 60,000 job vacancies were discriminating against age. The same is happening all over Western- Europe and the world. According to research it’s just about the tip of the iceberg.
Age discrimination is more common than you think; it is even the most common form of discrimination and almost one-third of people will experience it once. yes, you read that right. Everyone knows the prejudices about young people, the elderly and so on.
Right here I will concentrate on age discrimination in W-Europe and the USA, especially when companies are hiring to fill a particular job. One thing that jumps out immediately is that people over 55 years old are at a great disadvantage. I will indicate what you can do and at the end will give anybody a unique opportunity to escape being discriminated.
How bad is it really?
Older workers in the Netherlands suffer from age discrimination much more often than average in the European Union. 6.8 Percent of people over 55 report having experienced it in the workplace, more than twice the average level for the 27 EU Member States (2.7 percent). This is the conclusion of a study by Eurofound, the EU agency for improving living and working conditions.
Equally high levels are reported by employees in this age group of older workers from Belgium (7.4 percent), and lower levels are found in France (6.5 percent), in Germany (5.7 percent) and in the United Kingdom ( 3.2 percent).
For older employees, good health is one of the important factors in staying on the labor market. One in five (21.2 percent) over-55s think that working affects their health. In Belgium the corresponding figure is one in three (30.8 percent), almost the same level as in France (28 percent). In Germany and the United Kingdom the numbers of employees with these feelings are lower (19.5 percent and 14.6 percent respectively).
Age over 55
Particularly the over-55s are the victims: they are enormously deterred from applying if they conclude from the advertisement texts that they will have little chance. Many companies are not even aware of the discrimination, so it is primarily necessary to work on this. It should be emphasized that skills such as ‘flexibility’ can apply to the young, but to the elderly as well. And don’t forget the experience that older people bring in. Yes it is said, but they will cost more. Is that really so?
Unemployed young people and the elderly encounter many prejudices in job applications and find it hard to get started. Persistent bias towards some people exists, like: people over 50 are not up to date with technology and young people are too lazy to work. Or older people will cost too much, younger people have not enough experience. But let us focus on the elderly people here.
Here is the ultimate example
Joe Smith (59) had “too much work experience”, he was told by his employee. Just like that he could say goodbye to the trainee-ship he applied for in order to become a data analyst. And that while Joe had never worked as an analyst before. Can you believe this? Well, he could not and he came to a conclusion: I am discriminated against because of my age and they are never going to admit it.
Joe is not the only one who suffers from age discrimination in the application process. A mediator reported that in about 3% of vacancy texts studied, older people are discriminated against. In some cases it is abundantly clear. A vacancy for a PR position for someone between 22 and 35 years is not allowed. But also asking for a ‘young dog’, ‘school leaver’ or ‘starter’ is not allowed. But it still happens. Why?
Hardly any notifications
Because companies get away with it. In the West you have the opportunity to contact a mediator. But here is the kicker: not too many reports of age discrimination in application procedures have been made to this institution. Moreover, it even looks like age discrimination is socially accepted. Now this is something we really need to get rid of.
So, what does the trade union have to say? Well, they agree. Certainly in case the discrimination is very clear, they always send their members to a mediation company. And one more thing: unemployment among the elderly is decreasing less rapidly than among other groups. It should not be the case that employers reinforce this in such a way.
What did Joe do?
Joe decided to test his position out. He applied for another job at his company, because he already suspected that the elderly would not stand a chance because of their age. “I guide people who cannot get a job easily. So also seniors,” says Joe. “Many companies nowadays want data analysts, so a trainee-ship seemed like a good opportunity for unemployed seniors.” When he himself found out that people in their sixties had no chance, he hoped that the mediation company would encourage his company to open their vacancies to the elderly.
The report, together with 28 other cases, led to a procedure in which the mediator ruled on age discrimination. In this case: “The company has made prohibited discrimination based on age against the man.” The problem is that they cannot force companies to comply.
No legal force
All judgments of the mediator appear on their website. You will find that many companies were found guilty of age discrimination. You would think that this would help, especially when there is public scandal as well. Unfortunately discriminatory companies received no punishment, as the mediator has no legal power to do so.
Joe also experienced that. “My company simply was thumbing their nose at me after the verdict. “Nothing changed,” he says. “That is extremely serious. One of the challenges is to get people at some distance from the labor market to work. My company is deliberately ruining opportunities for this group in this way. The board and the Supervisory Board should retire.”
When you go to court
Whoever wants to force a company to take action can go to court. With summary proceedings you can try to force the vacancy to be adjusted. But the question is what goal you achieve in this way. If you then sit at the interview table and the employer says,” Gee, you were the one who started the proceedings “, then you probably don’t have a very good chance of getting a job.” Very frustrating indeed.
Another possibility is to claim compensation from the company, which is very difficult and often not feasible. Here we are talking about actual damage. You must therefore be able to prove that you would have been hired had it not been for your age. Then you can calculate how much wages you have missed. For Joe that was the reason not to go to court. “To prove to the judge that you are materially disadvantaged is too difficult. It would be better if the mediator could enforce it.”
Situation in the United States
For you people in the United States of America there is a little bit more hope though. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects certain applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
Contrary to the above situation, in the US companies can be punished for damages when you are not getting a job because of age. If you believe you may be the target of age discrimination, it’s critical that you have actionable examples to prove your point.
Final thoughts and my recommendation
When you are of a certain age, especially those above 50 or 55, you have a great chance of getting discriminated at.
Unfortunately, as you have seen, the actions you can take are very limited and the outcome very unsure. Society is not yet at a stage where age discrimination is actively rejected, notwithstanding the existing laws.
Companies all over the world are getting away with age discrimination.
In the US you can go to court and get some compensation, but you will still not have a job.
In Western societies, you can enlist the help of unions and a mediator, but they have no legal force. So, what are you going to do then?
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