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How to Age Proof Your Resume

AARP Vice President Susan Weinstock discusses resources that can help older adults score a new job

This job seeker works on creating the perfect resume

Getty Images/AARP

Mike Ellison:

As the economy begins to heal and many are returning to work, age discrimination continues to hold older workers back. A December 2020 AARP survey revealed that nearly 80% of older workers reported having seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. If you encounter discrimination in your workplace, what do you do?

Mike Ellison:

Today we'll hear from Laurie McCann, a senior attorney at AARP Foundation. She'll discuss the laws that are in place to defend your rights, and we'll hear about the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, a law that's being voted on by the United States House of Representatives this week. That's coming up next.

Mike Ellison:

Hi, I'm Mike Ellison with An AARP Take on Today. Joining us is Laurie McCann, a senior attorney with AARP Foundation litigation. Welcome to the show, Laurie.

Laurie McCann:

Thanks for having me.

Mike Ellison:

Wonderful to have you. So if you wouldn't mind, the 2018 report from the US Equal Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC, outlines the extent of age discrimination against older Americans. It found that even though 50 years had passed since Congress outlawed age discrimination against older Americans in the workplace, the practice remained a significant problem. Laurie says that eeoc.gov is the first place you'll want to go if you experience workplace discrimination.

Laurie McCann:

Unless you file a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC, and it has to be a timely charge, you cannot go to court. You cannot go to federal court and pursue an age discrimination claim.

Mike Ellison:

What does timely mean? In most states you have 300 days since the incident, but it can be as few as 180 days, depending on your state or local laws. The EEOC website says that you should contact them immediately if you believe your employer is discriminating against you.

Laurie McCann:

And if you don't file that timely charge, any lawsuit that you would bring challenging discrimination you suffered would be dismissed just out of hand. But if you're 40 and over and you work for a protected employer and you believe that the employer took age into consideration when making an employment decision, then you can file a charge of age discrimination. And basically what you're requesting the EEOC to do is to investigate your charge.

Laurie McCann:

They have investigators who will look into the allegations and then they come to a determination whether or not they believe there's cause which they say, "Yes, we agree with you. We think your employer unlawfully took your age into account," when like terminating you, failing to hire you, failing to give you a promotion. Whatever your complaint is, they'll either determine that they think age was a determining factor and there's cause. Or they'll say, "We looked into it and we don't see that age was taken into consideration." So they issue a no cause determination.

Mike Ellison:

Now you might wonder if you need an attorney the moment you file a charge. Laurie says that if you don't have one, you'll need to be your own best advocate.

Laurie McCann:

Some people are already represented by an attorney when they file a charge with the EEOC, but the vast majority of people are not. So I tell them once an investigator has been assigned to your charge, then you need to stay in touch with them.

Mike Ellison:

Pick up the phone and call your investigator regularly because it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. This is especially important if you can help them build a case for you.

Laurie McCann:

Call them regularly, say, "How is the investigation going?" If you have helpful information, if there was an age related comment that was said in a meeting, tell the investigator who else was in the meeting who might be able to corroborate what you heard. So give them suggestions on other people to interview, other potential witnesses. Just do as much as the work for them as you can, just keep feeding them information. Then you're likely to have a more thorough investigation.

Mike Ellison:

So let's say the EEOC finds that there is cause, and they've determined that there was discrimination against you. What happens next is that they'll issue a letter to both you and your employer, that explains their finding. Then they'll work with you to fix the problem.

Laurie McCann:

They are required by law to do this conciliation phase, where they get the two parties together. So if I'm the victim say, "Ms. McCann, what remedy are you seeking from your employer?" And then they tell the employer, "This can be resolved if you give her $10,000. She believes that's how much money she's lost." Now the employer can either accept that, or they can say, "No, we don't agree with that. We'll take our chances if she chooses to pursue this further."

Mike Ellison:

If you both agree to the solution, you'll be asked to waive your right to go to court. If you don't agree, there's a chance the EEOC could represent you in court, but they do so in a very small percentage of cases.

Laurie McCann:

A lot of people think that the EEOC, the federal agency, is the Lone Ranger. They're going to come in and sue your employer for you. And they do so very rarely. They can, but you can't count on that. So if they don't sue on your behalf, you do have the right. By filing that timely charge of discrimination, you can find a lawyer and file a complaint in federal court to your employer for age discrimination.

Mike Ellison:

If they don't file a lawsuit, you'll receive notice, and you will have 90 days to file your own. So now we know what to do if the agency determines that you have a case, whether they choose to represent you or not. But what happens if they determine no cause?

Laurie McCann:

I tell people do not be discouraged. If you really have a firm belief that you were discriminated against, do not be discouraged by the no cause determination. You can often fight to keep the no cause determination out of evidence, because it could mean that your charge was not properly investigated. Again, it depends on the district office's workload and how much effort they put into it. But it's not uncommon for a very strong age discrimination claim to receive a no cause determination from the EEOC. And that's why it's great that that cause, no cause is not determinative of whether or not you can go forward with your case. It just filing the timely charge is the only requirement.

Mike Ellison:

Laurie says that it's generally a good thing to keep track of your performance at a job. It's also a good thing to keep track of your performance, and what performance standards are, what is expected of you, and when you're hitting those goals so that you can show that your performance is on par, and in some cases better than anybody else, right? So it's not just the negative, but you need to keep track of your performance and your success on the job.

Laurie McCann:

Absolutely. Keep track of not only your formal performance reviews, because I mean, I'm actually involved in a lawsuit right now where a lot of the plaintiffs had these stellar careers with great performance reviews and then, bam, right before a RIF, they're chopped liver and they get a really bad review. Courts are suspicious of that. They're pretty suspicious of a precipitous drop in performance out of the blue.

Laurie McCann:

But don't just keep annual performance reviews. If you were on a project and a coworker sent you a "you were a great teammate and without you we wouldn't have achieved our goals." Keep all of those type of communications that show what a good performer you are, because those will be helpful when the time comes.

Mike Ellison:

Hopefully you'll never have to file the charge with the EEOC. Thankfully this week, the US House of Representatives is voting on new legislation that would improve protections for older workers. Joining us to discuss is Bill Sweeney, AARP senior vice president of government affairs. Welcome to the show Bill.

Bill Sweeney:

Thanks Mike.

Mike Ellison:

So let's jump right into this. What sort of laws would need to be passed to make it easier to file claims against or fight in court?

Bill Sweeney:

Well, there's a legislation that's moving in the House of Representatives this week, which we are very excited about. AARP has been leading the charge for this legislation. It's called the Protecting Older Workers Against Age Discrimination Act.

Bill Sweeney:

This legislation, it's very simple. It restores the law the way it used to be until 2009, when the Supreme Court made a ruling in a case that decided that they would erect a much higher standard of proof for age discrimination cases than for other kinds of discrimination, and it changed the way the law had been applied for many years. And so this bill that's in Congress, it's bipartisan, it has Democratic and Republican support, simply changes the law back to what it was before the Supreme Court case to make it so that people who are the victims of age discrimination can bring claims and have their day in court.

Mike Ellison:

If Congress refuses to strengthen laws surrounding POWAADA, what are some of the consequences, both long and short term?

Bill Sweeney:

Well, I think in the short term, we see the situation where we have, because of the pandemic, so many more older Americans have really had to drop out of the workforce. They've been forced into retirement, whether they wanted to take retirement or not. They're called the "long term unemployed." Right?

Bill Sweeney:

So over half of job seekers over the age of 55 are part of this long term unemployed. And what that means is that they have been unemployed for such a long time that they;ve sort of given up on their job search. And so that's a real problem.

Bill Sweeney:

It's a real problem when we have worker shortages. It's a real problem when we have an economy that is trying to get back off the ground around as we're trying to recover from this pandemic. So there's big challenges around age discrimination where employers are just taking a pass on older workers.

Bill Sweeney:

We know that's true. 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. 78%. It's really, I mean, eight out of 10 people. And that's a real sign that we have a very serious problem in this country, and we need our elected officials to focus on it. It needs to get fixed.

Mike Ellison:

What exactly are the implications for older workers after they've been pushed out?

Bill Sweeney:

Well, look, more than half of older workers, people 50 plus, have reported that they have been pushed out of a long time job before they chose to retire. It's 56%. It's a tremendous number. And what we know is that only one out of 10 of those people ever again earns as much money as they did before they were pushed out of that job.

Bill Sweeney:

So think about that. Nine out of 10 workers make less money. They're never able to make those make that money again. And if you think about what that means in terms of retirement, the folks who are getting closer to 65 or older who do want to retire, and who are trying to save money, it's oftentimes at the very end a person's career when they're supposed to be making the most money. Right?

Bill Sweeney:

That's the point where they have amassed the most in their entire working lives. They've got a ton of experience. They've got a ton of expertise. It's when they should be really earning at their highest potential so that they're able to save money to put away for a rainy day. And yet 56% of them are losing those jobs and not able to do that. So it's a real problem.

Bill Sweeney:

It has long term implications, both for those individuals and saving for retirement, but also for our economy. Right? These are people who have tremendous experience and expertise, as I said. And for them to lose their jobs, to be pushed out, we know that those folks have a tremendous amount of intellectual property in their brain. And when they leave the workplace, and when they're forced out of a job, they take that information with them. And then someone else has to come and learn it all over again.

Bill Sweeney:

So it's actually bad for companies to be discriminating against older workers. And it is so pervasive in our culture, this sense that you always want to have the young and fresh talent. But really the folks who bring tremendous experience and expertise are older workers. They're great employees, and companies lose out from this practice as well.

Mike Ellison:

Yeah. I mean, AARP has been one of the strongest, if not the strongest, proponent of POWAADA. Are there efforts to make that point, Bill, aside from the morality, aside from what is just and what is unjust, just that it's good business? Are you starting to make that point to companies to say, "Look, the data and the research shows that when you have these older workers interact with your newer workers, there's greater continuity or there's greater innovation. It is reflected in the bottom line." Is that evidence being presented?

Bill Sweeney:

Absolutely. That's a tremendous part of the work that AARP does through what we call our employers pledge program and other efforts to help companies realize the benefit of an intergenerational work workforce. So that is a tremendous effort that AARP is working on simultaneously outside of the legislative process.

Bill Sweeney:

But I'll also say even within the legislative process, in terms of talking to folks in Congress, we do make that case. We make that point all the time. And I think it's a big reason why there's so much bipartisan support for this legislation. I'm really thrilled to see that we have cosponsors who are both Republicans and Democrats. In these challenging times, we don't see that as much as we might like. So I'm heartened that people are coming together around this issue. And I do hope that we're able to get this bill passed and get something done to help bring justice back to the workforce.

Mike Ellison:

Yeah. That is encouraging. The pandemic has seen a lot of people experiencing joblessness and widespread layoffs. So with all older Americans hit particularly hard, what services does AARP offer to help these people reenter the workforce?

Bill Sweeney:

That's a great question. We have a tremendous number of programs that we offer to older workers, people who are 50 plus, to help them kind of get back on their feet, but also to be ready to compete for today's jobs that are in such demand. And so we have a website that you can check out. It's aarp.org/backtowork50plus. And we have efforts as well that are available on our website to help you retool your resume, to think about how to write your resume in a way that doesn't leave you vulnerable to age discrimination in the hiring process.

Bill Sweeney:

And so we have a number of efforts underway to really help older workers get back into the workforce. Like I mentioned earlier to help companies realize the value of older workers, but to help older workers, frankly, recognize the value in themselves. I've heard from a number of older folks who say, "No one wants to hire me. I'm too old." And we try to really challenge that because you're never too old to make a contribution. You're never out of it. And we want people to get into the workforce if that's what they want to do, and to be able to succeed and to help grow our economy.

Mike Ellison:

We know what's at stake for workers, Bill, and you've touched a bit about what employers potentially miss. Right? That intellectual property, that experience, that perspective. What else are employers missing out on if they're not hiring older workers? Or if they're forcing older workers out of positions?

Bill Sweeney:

Well, I think in addition to that, right, there's tremendous value that comes from having a multi-generational workforce, having people of different generations and different experiences working side by side, sharing experiences, sharing wisdom, creating those mentoring relationships, which are so important. All of those things, and that passing on of knowledge, and the coaching, and all of that, really builds a great team atmosphere. It helps people grow. It helps challenge workers who are older to work with much younger workers. It helps younger workers who are challenged with working with other folks.

Bill Sweeney:

And those challenges really make us better employees, and make us more creative, and they make us better at our work. And so it's one of the things that I find most amazing about my work is working with people of different generation and different life experiences. And we've seen that borne out in the evidence across companies, that there's a real value to having that multi-generational influence.

Mike Ellison:

Absolutely. So Bill, if our listeners are passionate about this issue, what can they do? How can they get involved? How can they support AARP's efforts or just their friends, family members, people who are experiencing some of these challenges?

Bill Sweeney:

Well, thanks. There's so much you can do. I think if you are interested in trying to help out, if you're interested in taking on these issues, you can go to aaarp.org/agediscrimination, and there's information there about how you can help.

Bill Sweeney:

You know, we have a vote on Wednesday in the US House. Making those phone calls to your United States Congresspeople urging them to vote yes on POWAADA would be incredibly helpful. But I think also the one thing I want to really make the point today is that so many people, like I said, 78% of older workers have reported seeing or experiencing age discrimination on the job.

Bill Sweeney:

And we really need those folks, 78% of Americans who have seen that, to come forward and to tell their stories and to be vocal about it, to say that it's wrong, to speak out against it, and to make people understand how pervasive this is, and how important it is that we crack down on this and that we make workplaces open to people of all generations.

Bill Sweeney:

So there's a couple of different things that people can do if they're interested, but speaking out is a really tremendous way to make sure that your voice is heard. And then also getting involved. And again, go to aarp.org/agediscrimination to join the fight.

Mike Ellison:

Bill Sweeney is AARP vice president for government affairs. Thanks for your time, Bill. Thanks for your passion. Thanks for your insight, and thanks for your efforts.

Bill Sweeney:

Thanks so much, Mike, it's been great being with you today.

Mike Ellison:

One final note, we mentioned in our conversation with Laurie McCann, that local laws can improve your protections against age discrimination. One such law was passed by the New Jersey legislature this week. The bill helps older workers in a lot of ways, such as eliminating language that allows employers not to hire or promote workers over 70 years old. We'll leave links to more resources in the show notes.

Mike Ellison:

For more information about the developments with POWAADA and other protective laws around the country, check out aarp.org/age discrimination. That's it for today's show. If you like this episode, please let us know by emailing us at newspodcastaarp.org. Thanks to our news team, producers Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon, production assistant Fernando Snellings, engineer Julio Gonzalez, executive producer Jason Young. And of course my co-host Bob Edwards and Wilma Consul. Become a subscriber on Apple podcasts, Google play, Stitcher and other apps. Be sure to rate our show as well for an AARP take on today, I'm Mike Ellison. Thanks for listening.

The Social Security Administration just announced its annual cost-of-living adjustment for 2022. This week, we talk about the rate increase and what it means for Social Security beneficiaries.

We’ll also discuss the state of unemployment for older workers. AARP Vice President of Financial Resiliency Programming Susan Weinstock says there are resources for those who want to improve their chances at landing an interview as an older adult.

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