9 Signs Your Boss Is Ageist (And What To Do About It)

Age discrimination is illegal, but it can still crop up for older employees in the workforce.

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Updated June 11, 2024
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Finding and keeping a job as an older American isn’t always easy. While it’s illegal to treat a job applicant differently due to their age — the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 strictly forbids this — it still happens.

That reality can be challenging for those trying to find a job, or hoping they advance in their career so they can move beyond living paycheck to paycheck.

Fortunately, you have tools at your disposal to combat age discrimination. Here are some signs that your boss might be ageist — and what you can do to combat the issue.

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Signs of an ageist boss

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Recognizing signs of ageism in your boss is the key to combating the problem. An ageist boss might:

  • Give older employees a shot at new learning opportunities while older employees are excluded.
  • Overlook older employees for special assignments.
  • Unfairly assign older employees tedious tasks.
  • Leave older employees out of meetings or company activities.
  • Use coded words in job listings. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lists phrases such as “young,” “energetic,” and “recent graduate” in job ads as being potentially discriminatory.
  • Try to pressure older employees to retire.
  • Overlook older employees for raises and promotions.
  • Assume that older workers don’t understand technology.
  • Replace older workers with younger ones.

Solutions for dealing with an ageist boss

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It may be a deeply unpleasant thought but don’t assume your boss is immune to ageism.

If you notice signs of ageism, even if they aren't directed at you, don't dismiss them. Acknowledge that it could happen to anyone, and stay vigilant against discriminatory practices.

Here are some options for dealing with an ageist boss.

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Voice your concerns to the boss or human resources

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This is the most direct option available to you. If you feel you are being treated differently, speaking up is important.

You don’t necessarily have to address your age with the boss, but you should at least express that you want to take on more responsibility or feel more like you are contributing to the team.

If you are uncomfortable raising your concerns with the boss, consider going to human resources. Just remember that the law is on your side.

Document everything

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If you suspect you are being discriminated against because of your age, it’s important to document everything thoroughly.

Note dates, times, and people involved in ageist interactions. If you confront an ageist person, try to bring a witness and ask them to record their version of events in writing.

Keep a written timeline — such as saving emails — to support your case. If you face retaliation for reporting ageism, a detailed record showing the retaliation occurred after you made a complaint can be crucial, particularly if your complaint goes to the EEOC.

Look for chances to expand your skill set

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Combating ageism doesn’t always have to mean direct conflict.

Instead, you might want to invest in your growth and development. Stay updated on trends, check the headlines daily, and strive for improvement. Find a mentor, inside or outside your company, who is committed to supporting your success.

If you show signs that you are trying to grow your skills, it might convince the boss that you are a valuable employee regardless of your age.

Try to embrace change and new ideas

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Those who have been in the workforce for a long time likely have a wealth of institutional knowledge that should be valuable to any employer. But that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels.

Don’t use age to seek leniency from your boss, and don’t feel entitled to coast due to past contributions. Avoid those stereotypes.

Consider reaching out to an employment lawyer

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This might be considered the nuclear option for many employees, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

An employment lawyer can help you understand your options and give you a sense of how you might want to proceed.

Start looking for other work

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It probably sounds obvious, but if you feel you are being treated unfairly at your job and you are unhappy, it might be time to move on.

The AARP offers a specialized job board for experienced workers. It also offers a list of companies that have pledged to hiring workers who are 50 or older.

Remember, there are plenty of workplaces that value the contributions of older workers.

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Look for red flags in your next job search

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Preventing becoming a victim of age discrimination can be a tall order, but there are steps you can take to weed out prospective employers that might discriminate against older workers.

So, during your next job hunt:

  • Seek out companies with strong reputations and policies that promote inclusion.
  • Network with colleagues to identify ageism-free organizations.
  • Review county court records for past employment lawsuits so you can gauge a company’s culture.
  • Make sure company policies are transparent, and the business shows a commitment to a discrimination-free workplace.

Bottom line

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Although it’s illegal, the reality is that age discrimination still happens.

Signs of ageism include exclusion from new learning opportunities, being overlooked for assignments, and use of coded language.

To combat age discrimination, voice your concerns, document incidents, expand your skill set, and consider legal advice. Don’t let age discrimination derail your career and erode your ability to grow your wealth before you are ready to retire.

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Author Details

Will Vitka

Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.