Subtle Discrimination


Blatant discrimination is deplorable, but it is easy to spot and usually easy to determine accountability. More ambiguous, and thus more dangerous to older workers, is subtle discrimination. This can take many forms, and by its nature it is probably more pervasive than most people realize. Some examples are as follows:

  • A longtime employee’s supervisor makes comments in his or her presence about the benefits of retirement
  • An employee whose company “restructures,” and who subsequently ends up with a smaller office down a little-used corridor
  • An employee who gets passed over for promotions, always in favor of younger staffers
  • A worker who is reassigned to a job with fewer responsibilities, even if the assignment is considered a lateral move
  • An employee who is no longer sent on business trips, provided membership in profes-sional associations, or encouraged to take job-related courses

What makes subtle discrimination so much more dangerous than blatant discrimination in the minds of many experts is that it is harder to prove. Perhaps the supervisor is making comments about retirement because he or she is looking forward to being retired. Maybe the employee who was passed over for promotions has never asked to be promoted and thus is considered to be lacking in leadership initiative. Subtle forms of age discrimination may make older workers uncomfortable or unhappy enough that they will retire, even though they may not be able to pinpoint actual discrimination as their reason for leaving. The bottom line, however, is that subtle discrimination is no more acceptable in the workplace than blatant actions directed at older workers. Determining the difference between innocent remarks or coincidence and true discrimination may be difficult, but an older worker who suspects discrimination should know that taking action is a viable option.