1. Older workers are being fired or offered buyouts, and younger ones are being hired.
The most common term for this is "culture fit." But what it really means is that a company is bound and determined to hire younger, less expensive workers who are basically about the same age with the same mind-set, says Karen Southall Watts, a career coach in Vancouver, Canada. "When a company hires 30 versions of the same person over and over again, I find this a big red flag."
2. You are reassigned to unpleasant duties.
Job reassignment can be the clearest sign that they're trying to replace you or get you to quit, advises Suzanne Lucas, a human resources expert who blogs about the workplace at EvilHRLady.org. How to avoid this? "As you get older, what you need to be careful about is to be continually growing and improving on the job," she says.
3. You start hearing tacky comments about your age.
If your boss has recently asked you, even in a friendly way, "Say, when are you going to retire?" — that's a strong sign that it's on the boss's mind, says Laurie McCann, a senior attorney at AARP Foundation Litigation. Prepare a savvy response that protects you and your job, advises Jane Rasmussen, an employment law attorney in Fairfax, Va. Be clear that you have no plans to retire and that you intend to work there for a long time. If you can grab a friendly coworker to witness the conversation, that can be helpful in case the issue evolves into a lawsuit. Send an email to your boss that summarizes the conversation the two of you had about your "retirement" and remind the boss you have no such plans.
AARP's Susan Weinstock gives advice to a guest on the Dr. Phil show about facing age discrimination in a job search.
4. You stop getting raises.
This can be tricky, McCann says. If your younger coworker who had a stellar year gets a raise, but you had a so-so year and did not get a raise, that is not age discrimination, she says. But if you had a good year and still get coal in your stocking instead of a raise, that may well be age discrimination — unless you're already at the top of the pay scale.
5. Your performance reviews tank.
This is particularly common when a company gets a new CEO, or when you get a new (often younger) boss who decides it's time to get rid of the older, more expensive workers. "When you suddenly get 1s instead of 4s on your performance reviews, you are in serious trouble," warns Robin Ryan, a career counselor and author of Over 40 and You're Hired! Start compiling evidence early, and consider seeking help from an employment lawyer. "Courts are very suspicious of this kind of thing," McCann adds. "You don't suddenly become a bad employee."
Bruce Horovitz, a former USA Today reporter and Los Angeles Times marketing columnist, is a freelance writer.