We live longer than ever in the history of mankind. Living longer means that we need to work longer in order to support ourselves and not depend on the government to "take care of us." But there is a growing epidemic that's preventing many of us from achieving this basic need.
This epidemic is ageism. I was hit with this form of age discrimination two years ago when I was 62. I had worked for a company through various sales and transformations for 38 years. After the last sale of our company, the purchaser studied us for a year and then dismissed many senior (both in age and tenure) employees. To this company's discredit, those dismissed were given six weeks' severance pay. One employee who had worked there for 32 years was dismissed for cause, stating that his work was not satisfactory, yet he had been exemplary for many years. Because of this he received no severance.
This behavior toward long standing employees is neither right nor fair. Yet employers can do this by hiding behind the now antiquated principle of "employee at will" — allowing workers to be dismissed without cause and giving the employee neither recourse nor the comfort of reasonable severance. This first form of ageism can be easily cured by legally eliminating the principle of employment at will in America; there is no similar concept in either Europe or Canada.
When individuals or companies will not behave in an ethical manner toward employees, it is up to government to impose laws that establish basic requirements for decency in such situations. These types of laws to protect employees exist in many other of our western allies.
Another form of ageism exists in the hiring process and may be much more difficult to control. I thought that I would surely find a job within six months of my termination. I have four degrees and am a seasoned manager. However, I soon discovered that companies do not want to hire a person who is 55 or older. Several of my friends are in similar situations.
The probability of employment decreases in direct relationship to one's age, in my experience. We all know that age discrimination is illegal (except for certain jobs where age may directly affect performance and safety, such as an airline pilot). So in the application and hiring process a company cannot ask for an applicant's age. However, a company can ask what year you graduated high school or college, making it quite simple for them to do the math and determine your age. By asking this, a computer program can ensure that the application is not considered. If the company is a small company and screens applications manually, it is simple to Google a person and find their age as well as other private information about them.
What happened to the days when companies valued the experience and knowledge of seasoned, mature older workers? The answer is that they have been replaced by younger, inexperienced and cheaper workers. The lack of appreciation today of its workers by Corporate America is staggering. You can draw your own conclusions on the effect this has had on business in our country.
Ageism needs to be addressed in a practical legal manner and eliminated. I have had a good work life and work today as an independent contractor, a category of employment that I do not particularly enjoy (the discussion of this type of employment is for another day). But I am still vital, sharp and intelligent with much to offer a company, though few would bother considering me.
Possibly even more concerning is the fact that I sent a letter outlining my experiences to the two senators for the State of Maryland, and I did not even receive the courtesy of a reply.
Gilbert A. Schwartzman (firstname.lastname@example.org) works in sales.