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What is Age Harassment?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Age harassment is a form of harassment in which a person is targeted due to his or her age, usually because the person is either older or younger than most of the people in a particular group. This type of harassment can be a serious concern in workplaces and similar environments, and in the US it is illegal to engage in age harassment in a workplace. Despite the dual nature of this form of harassment, laws in the US primarily protect those who are harassed due to advanced age, rather than those who may suffer harassment due to youth.

Often associated with ageism, age harassment usually takes the form of physical, verbal, or psychological taunting or abuse that makes a person feel threatened or uncomfortable. This can take a number of forms, including inappropriate jokes, comments made with regard to the age of a person, offensive stereotypes regarding people of a certain age, and violence or aggression directed primarily toward someone due to his or her age. There does not need to be an act of physical violence for age harassment to take place, however, merely someone having the sense of being threatened or made to feel unnecessarily uncomfortable due to his or her age.

Age harassment, like many other forms of harassment, is illegal in the workplace in the US and many other countries. In the US, for example, any form of harassment or discrimination that takes place toward someone over the age of 40, due to his or her age, is grounds for a lawsuit or disciplinary action. An employer who engages in age harassment, or is seen as condoning such harassment, is potentially vulnerable for a lawsuit against him or her. Someone who engages in this form of harassment in the workplace may be terminated due to such behavior.

Despite the fact that age harassment could potentially be directed toward someone due to his or her lack of age, such as someone who is below an average age for a certain group, there is little legislation to protect someone from such harassment. While there may not be legal protection for young people from age harassment, it is still possible that an employer would terminate an employee for engaging in such harassment on general principal. Such a termination could also occur to avoid the potential for a company to serve as a model for a hearing on harassment toward young people and the establishment of a new precedent.

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Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On Feb 18, 2012

I served as an intern at a fashion magazine one year, and I encountered plenty of age harassment. I was only nineteen, and the older, more experienced workers made sure to create a hostile work environment for me.

The fashion industry leans toward youth, so naturally the women in their thirties felt threatened when young employees or interns showed up. They were always in fear of being replaced, and they sought to make us very uncomfortable.

They kept telling me I was just a baby. They would turn up their noses when I asked them a question, loudly proclaiming their frustration that I didn't know the answer to such a simple question and stating that it must be because I just got out of high school.

It upset me a lot, but since I was just an intern, there was nothing I could do but stick it out. I wasn't about to let them ruin a valuable educational experience and college credit for me.

By Oceana — On Feb 17, 2012

My mother was a victim of age discrimination at the company where she had worked for forty years. After she hit sixty, the company started sending out one employee as a representative to a conference at a nice beach resort each year, and my mother really thought that she would get to do this at least once, since she had been there longer than anyone and knew more about the company.

However, the boss kept choosing young, pretty girls to represent the company. When this happened for the third year in a row, my mother confronted him about it. She mentioned that her thorough knowledge of the company and all her years of experience made her more than qualified to serve at the conference.

He actually told her that she was getting on up there in years, and they wanted fresh, new faces to be associated with the company. He was afraid to send an old person out, because he feared that people would feel the company was old-fashioned or dying out.

This infuriated her, but there was really nothing she could do. This type of discrimination wasn't threatening to her or her job, and the boss really could choose whoever he wanted to go on the trip.

By Perdido — On Feb 17, 2012

@StarJo – It also depends on how far the jokes go. An occasional lighthearted remark now and then might be fine, but insulting pranks can fit the definition of harassment.

My uncle got a job doing web design in an office full of young people. Even his boss was in his twenties, and he played a big part in the age harassment.

It seemed that nearly everyone was in on the jokes. They put a box of incontinence diapers in his chair one time. His heart just sank when he saw it, because he knew that they were not going to take his work seriously.

He tried to tough it out awhile longer, but age-related pranks kept being pulled. He sat down with the boss and told him that if they did not stop, he could easily take legal action against them. That cooled him off, and the boss told everyone to cut out the pranks.

By StarJo — On Feb 16, 2012

Sometimes, whether or not something can be viewed as age harassment depends on the personality of the alleged victim. Some people take jokes about their age rather well and even view them as a form of familiarity. Others are more sensitive and take things more personally.

My dad is the oldest person in his workplace, and his coworkers are always making comments and jokes about his age. On his birthday, they gave him black balloons and other gag gifts related to his age. He just laughed, because he knew this wasn't intended to make him angry or upset.

It actually made him feel closer to his coworkers. When you are comfortable enough with a group of people, you can kid around without hurting each other.

However, once he retired, people started teasing the next oldest employee about his age, and he did not like it one bit. He ended up complaining to his boss about what he viewed as age harassment.

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