April 2nd, 2012

How you can fight back against age-based bullying on the job – AARP

By Diane Cadrain

“Stupid old woman.”
“Too old to keep up.”
“You should just retire.”

Taunts like these, aimed at the growing number of employees over age 50, are coming from bullies in the workplace. It may be the boss, it may be a coworker or even a customer who’s hurling the invective.

How bad is the problem? In 2007, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 5,181 claims of age-based harassment. By 2011, that number had gone up to 6,406.

“It’s definitely something we’re seeing more of,” said Raymond Peeler, senior attorney-advisor in EEOC’s Office of Legal Counsel.

What is bullying?

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), a Bellingham, Wash., nonprofit organization, defines bullying as repeated health-harming mistreatment of a target by one or more perpetrators, including verbal abuse and offensive nonverbal conduct.

Gary Namie, WBI’s director, sees a cold logic at work when bosses are the bullies. “Employers often want to drive out the more experienced, typically higher paid, workers,” he writes in a 2010 report on age and workplace bullying. “Though discrimination based on age is technically illegal, illegalities do not frighten employers. Their attitude is ‘so, sue us.’ Unemployed workers don’t have the money to launch a legal battle.”

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A 2011 survey by CareerBuilder similarly found that 29 percent of workers age 55 and older said they’d been bullied on the job, compared with 25 percent for the 35-44 group.

That the statistics show disproportionate numbers of older workers reporting the problem comes as no surprise to Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Mature workers are more likely to have an expertise, and more likely to have the confidence to come forward with their views.”

What does bullying look like?

Consider these recent stories from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Robert Coffman, a heating and air conditioning technician for the city of North Richland Hills, Texas, was 56 when hired. During his six-year employment, he endured taunts from his supervisors that he was too old to keep up, was too old to do his job and was earning too much money. When he complained, management did nothing. The bullying continued until Coffman felt forced to leave the job at age 62. In 2009 the city settled his claim of age-based harassment and paid him $75,000.

Mary Bassi, a waitress at a Houston strip club, was in her 50s in the summer of 2005 when 30-something managers started referring to her as “old,” making negative comments about her age and hiring younger women to work her shifts. She was fired without explanation at 56. In January 2011, an EEOC case was resolved and the club was forced to pay her $60,000 for age discrimination and wrongful discharge.

Feeling bullied?

Here is how experts say you can fight back against workplace abuse:

Take care of you. Check and protect your physical and mental health first. Seek medical help if necessary.

Write it down. “Keep track of what was said or done and who was present,” Haefner says. “The more specifics you can provide, the stronger the case you can make for yourself when confronting the bully head on or reporting the bully to a company authority.”

Do your homework. Research state and federal legal options.

Talk to an attorney. Look for internal company policies (for example, zero tolerance of harassment or violence) that may have been violated.

Compile numbers. Gather data about the economic impact that the bullying behavior has on the company, putting dollars and cents to each instance of turnover and replacement that bullying causes.

Brace yourself. There may be retaliation ahead and you should be prepared for it.

Update your résumé. You may have to find a new job. It can’t hurt to start searching.

Read the original article here.


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  1. Jay Jacobus says:

    Bullying is spontaneous, enabled by power.

    Redress is painstaking, hindered by red tape and corporate law.

    All minorities suffer the same fate.

  2. Annie says:

    I have to say that aside from take care of yourself and upgrade your resume, none of the above advice worked for me.

    Write it down means you live in a lawsuit. Many of us kept track for years, gave our employers volumes. They don’t care.

    Know the law? Know the facts? I gave them copies. You can state the law till you’re blue in the face.

    There’s really no way to prepare for retaliation. None of us are prepared to see a lifelong career and reputation destroyed for nothing related to our work.

    No one is really prepared to be betrayed by an employer and emotionally destroyed by rumors. No one is really prepared to be forced out of work within reach of retirement.

    Gary Namie, WBI’s director, states the truth of it: “Employers often want to drive out the more experienced, typically higher paid, workers . . . Their attitude is ‘so, sue us.’ Unemployed workers don’t have the money to launch a legal battle.” Exactly.

    Also, I need to add that the place where I worked and saw many experienced women (and a few men) bullied, received an AARP award for helping older workers. So I might be resisting the article.

    • Jay Jacobus says:

      Bullying is easy.

      Defending is hard.

      $75,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to damages many victims suffer. Would I make such a settlement? I don’t have that choice.

      • kay says:

        As I sit here experiencing a -groundhogs day- syndrome every morning, I can vouch that your statement is true. $75,000 would be only a drop in the bucket. Though it would help with the foreclosure fight that I am now experiencing as my family was left with 0 income for eight mths until unemployment.

        Every morning I feel like it is the same as the one before and I am stuck in a disbelief of how I was one of the most productive working in a stew of toxicity for a completely unethical company and all spoke of the blatant lack of ethics.

        I can’t believe how I let the toxic ones stomp on me and misuse, invade and abuse me and I ignored and took the high road finally asking for help. I can’t believe how that bullying attitude invited and led to the indecent invasions committed against me by a sick male supervisor and all the bully females could say was oh well, “he should have been in trouble along time ago for sexual harassment”. Or call me “princess” and say I’d be fired.

        Sure enough, PTSD then a escaped on sick leave and tried to find a way to work safe, then company forced me out on further leave for additional 6mths then even before it turned into a full year, I wrote to ask why I was still on leave when my Dr released me and provided PTSD diagnosis…they did not respond and waited out the time, and then a few days before a full year, sent me a letter stating that I was terminated due to disability and that I would likely not recover within the 12mths the company allows as strict deadline to recover from illness.

        I feel like I live in a foreign country. The confidence that I always had that I could take care of myself and earn is struggling. I miss living with no devastational baggage saddled to me. I loved smiling and being positive, people at work loved me for it and the
        “invisible ones” like parking attendant and cleaning staff would buy me Christmas gifts and b-day gifts as we became friends. I loved my work and put everything into a good record, conduct, ethics.

        My life was good, despite the challenge of having a diabetic little one, we were so happy and things were good. I don’t know what we’ll do.

        I’d take any aging skilled, ethical and decent co-worker over a younger or older bully spirit killer any day. So should these companies. The laws must work for us all.

        PTSD still has hold of me.

      • Jay Jacobus says:

        The amount of money is secondary to getting the vicitm restored. If $75,000 bring the victim back to full health and financial security, then it restores the victim. Most likely, however, the victim will need to get a job and go into therapy.

        But the criteria will depend on the condition of the victim and needs he/she has to have a “normal” life.

        $75,000 may have been a negotiated settlement and not a restorative settlement.

  3. Dee says:

    i can’t believe how bad the work place has become, it seems like there is no goodwill and no end in sight. I am 51, look younger, but the only job I could find after obtaining my masters was a reception job. Surrounded by 20 year olds, who have shared; they hate their parents, waiting for us older workers to die so they get the opportunity they feel they are entitled too and furious that “we” older generation left them a mess…when you ask them what are their political views on what went wrong, they roll their eyes and say “but I am not into politics”. However they are quite skilled at work politics and career assassinations of their older counter parts.

  4. Lisa says:

    I feel the same. At 55 I’m tired of being cussed by 20 yr olds. No respect whatsoever.

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