Ageism Without Cause

Imagine losing your job, perhaps your entire career, after working years to achieve your professional goals. Then imagine being told that your dismissal is due to some empty reason such as "we're taking the company in a different direction." After which, the only direction the company has taken is dismissing its older workers. "Dismissed without cause." It happens all the time and too frequently to women approaching or over 50.

Consider this
In 2016, we reported stats for women of an assured age that were eye-opening. In particular, a 7.3 percent unemployment rate for women age 45 and beyond, many being among the long-term unemployed! This data spotlights the need for employment solutions that will respectfully return women of an assured age not only to the workforce but to their lives.

Yes, there is The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, but it's loop-holed throughout. The ambiguities in the ADEA are exploited by companies every day. This is a law that's very difficult to enforce in both the hiring and dismissal processes. For instance, compliance can be as simple as aligning an employee dismissal with a reason such as product redirection, role elimination or corporate restructuring. These excuses for dismissal are considered "without cause" or no fault of the employee's. Keep in mind, though, that once the employee is dismissed, the company is under no obligation to actually go through with their reason for the dismissal. In one very bold case, a U.S. company dismissed an entire department of more than twenty employees citing company redirection. Nearly all were over age 40, many in their 50's, and the few under age 40 were rehired the very next week!

While some older workers find employment after losing their jobs, too many don't. According to Susan N. Houseman, a W.E. Upjohn Institute senior economist, in an interview with, “Research shows that older workers who are laid off from their jobs fare much worse than younger workers. They are more likely to suffer long-term unemployment or drop out of the labor force…”

If you're a women approaching or over 50, chances are more likely that you will go through an age-related dismissal at some point between ages 45 and 65. Knowing this can help you to prepare for what may come, especially if you've never been through a job dismissal.

This is your dismissal
Manager(s) executing the dismissal just want to get it over with and hustle the employee out the door. They are cool, practiced and swift as they step through the company legalese. As a result, you may feel overwhelmed, lack control of your thoughts, and be rendered speechless. At this point, you need to rally and act in your own best interest.

First, do not let the company run your dismissal. That meeting is your meeting, too! You have the right to take the time you need to get all of your questions answered and leave feeling confident that you know how to proceed. Take control, take the floor and take your time! And if you are so composed, smile.

Now that you have control
Don't take the dismissal at face value. Find out why.
1. What is their criteria for choosing you for dismissal?
2. Have you not lived up to their expectations?
3. Do your skills need to be updated to align with a new initiative?
4. If they cite eliminating your role, find out if there are other opportunities in the company that you may be eligible for.

As well, be certain that you are getting everything in writing. If there is anything significant that they have said to you that is not in writing, request that it be provided in writing before you leave the building. Point out that this covers them as much as it covers you. There can be no misunderstanding after-the-fact.

And, yes, you are allowed to express your feelings. It's not necessary to get overly emotional, angry or threatening. In fact, just don’t. It will only hurt you. It is reasonable, however, for the company to hear and understand how they've impacted you. Take a beat to breathe and calmly define what you're feeling. Then state those feelings simply and clearly.
"I realize that sharing this may not make any difference, but I think what you're doing is disrespectful of the years of valuable contributions I've made here. I'm deeply disappointed to learn that the company I've believed in and dedicated my time and experience to could be so cavalier with my career and my life."

It's important to ask questions
Make sure you know the following before closing the meeting. If you inquire about something that's already been discussed -- perhaps you didn't hear it or understand it -- that's ok. Now is still the time to ask about it.
1. What is my official date of termination?
Some dismissals are immediate and require swift action to return to the workforce. Some have an expectation of employment during work turnover and some are a future date. These terms both allow time to find other employment. Understand the term of your dismissal and act accordingly.

2. Will I receive severance? If so, what are the terms regarding amount of severance, confidentiality and circumstances for repayment? Am I giving up any rights by collecting a severance?
Sometimes you must sign a document stating that you will not try to collect additional funds in a lawsuit against the company if you opt to collect the severance. If you're unsure about signing anything, show the agreement(s) to an attorney before signing and discuss your options. Don't be coerced into signing something you don’t understand.

3. Am I eligible for unemployment compensation?
Don't just ask the company this one. Also ask this question of the state unemployment agency. Sometimes a company will say 'no' even when you are actually able to collect. In cases of joblessness, it's important to find sources of income that you are eligible for to remain solvent.

4. What happens to my company provided health insurance? When does it end? Is COBRA an option?
For many COBRA is far too expensive especially during periods of unemployment. You may want to check for policies in the Health Insurance Marketplace (ACA) or with your local Medicaid office as alternatives to COBRA.

5. Am I eligible to be hired in the future?
Some companies have a policy of 'one and done.' They simply won't rehire anyone previously dismissed for any reason. Others are fine with re-hiring if the dismissal is truly without cause.

6. What will the company say specifically when another company calls to verify employment?
Former employers can share facts and they have the right to give a reason for the dismissal. Fortunately, most companies adhere to a strict "job title and dates of employment only" policy when verifying employment. Make sure you know which way your employer will respond.

7. Can I get a written reference from the company or directly from my supervisor?
Many companies today have a policy of no written references. If you are denied a reference, you may want to reach out to colleagues for these references or ask your network on LinkedIn to post references for you.

8. Is anyone else being let go at this time?
The ADEA states that anyone being dismissed over the age of 40 has the right to receive a list of job titles and ages of employees being let go in the same area. Again, get this in writing. This disclosure may tell you if the dismissals are a result of age profiling, but understand that the company will define what "area" means (area of expertise, department, skillset, etc.). They can use this fluid definition to protect their motives and limit your right to transparency.

9. Am I required to sign or adhere to an already signed non-compete agreement? What are the terms of the non-compete after termination? Are there time, industry or geographic conditions?
This is critical to know. It could adversely impact your ability to find work. If you are held to a non-compete, be sure to have your attorney review it and discuss your options.

10. What happens to special compensations that I've received?
This may include relocation assistance, tuition reimbursement, technology loans, memberships, publications, uniforms, company vehicles, phones/computers, apartments or credit cards, and more. Find out if these benefits must be repaid or returned, or if they are considered yours (paid-in-full). If not, see if there is a compromise to be made in order to retain special compensations like taking over a phone contract on your own or splitting any remaining tuition reimbursement.

11. Will the company provide re-employment assistance or career coaching for finding another job?
Many reputable companies will engage an outside service to help displaced workers with their resumes, career direction, employment searches and more. Don't hesitate to take full advantage of these services if offered.

If the company requests additional time to find an answer to any or all of your questions, ask them to commit to a date when they will deliver that answer to you in writing. And circle back with them in writing about what they've agreed to immediately following your dismissal meeting .

Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
I can't stress enough how important it is to follow-up on anything that isn't 100 percent completed at the time of dismissal. Don't let it rest and don't trust that the company will take care of it. Remember, you aren't their problem anymore. They dismissed you. It's up to you to hold them accountable to the commitments that they've made to you.

What now?
It's important to allow yourself time to process what happened and adjust to your new reality, but don't wallow. Give yourself a couple of days to breathe, get perspective, then get up and get moving. You may want to begin by letting go of resentment and getting control over your available funds. Once you've tackled that, set goals for yourself to update your resume, clean up your LinkedIn profile, collect references, network regularly and identify appropriate job search resources. Or, dare to reinvent yourself. Sign up for classes, redirect your skills and take a path to a whole new career.

If you have an age-related dismissal story and want to share your experience with others, contact us.

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Leaping the Chasm™ (LTC) provides candid conversations and social media engagement for women in their 40's, 50's and beyond who are undergoing the personal, physical, financial, education and employment transitions that often accompany mid-life. LTC shares experiences, transfers knowledge, improves outlook, connects people, and helps identify opportunities for this powerful demographic.

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