Until July of this year, the Department of Labor and its affiliated offices around the country were the places one went to file complaints against an employer because of forced retirement or other mistreatment related to age.
Now, the job of policing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act has been turned over to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It's all part of an attempt to streamline government agencies and activities.
In the streamlining, the rights of older workers might not be as well protected as they were before. The EEOC has long dealt with employment discrimination cases based on race and sex. It seemed logical to put age discrimination in with these other two categories.
However, age discrimination in employment is more subtle. It needs a certain type of legal and research expertise which, for the moment, the EEOC does not really have.
The EEOC, according to some lawyers and other experts in the field of aging and work, is overloaded with race and sex discrimination cases. It can hardly handle the current caseload let alone take on a whole new field of discrimination. A few Labor Department lawyers and others migrated to EEOC'S in the changeover -- but there were not many (and they were not the top people).
Some lawyers also contend that the EEOC might not have as much investigative clout as the Labor Department had when it comes to fishing for evidence. All this, hopefully, may work itself out over the next two or three years. Meanwhile, if you are being discriminated against because of your age, what should you do? You can't just sit there and take it because your job, your livelihood, is at stake. It's hard enough getting and keeping a good job these days without having someone suggesting you're "over the hill."
First off, you've got to know your basic rights under the law. Here are the key words:
"It is unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against such individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's age."
This means they can't fire you, force you to retire, not hire you, not promote you, give you less or unequal benefits (medical insurance, training, education) or punish or harass you in any way because of your age. If they do it to you, they've got to be doing it to younger workers, too.
The law begins to protect you when you reach age 40 and continues to age 70 for most employes. Most federal employees have no upper age limit for this protection, but certain people (such as police department employes) have an earlier mandatory retirement date because their jobs are dangerous or physically exacting.
If you feel you are not being treated right by your employer because of your age, you should look up the nearest Equal Employment Opportunity commission office and file a complaint -- or, at least get more details on your rights. You can find these offices under U.S. Government listings in the phone book or through your local government's office of civil rights or human resources.
After reading up on your rights, you might want to discuss your case with a private attorney -- someone who has had experience with labor law (such as fair labor standards cases). An attorney may be able to make things move faster at EEOC or might want to file a suit.