When you are applying for a job, or up for a promotion, and don’t get it you can have many questions. One question that can cause massive damage is this: “was I passed over because of my age?”

Recently, the question above has become a central source of pain for Volkswagen in the form of a lawsuit claiming systemic age discrimination practices. A 53-year-old former assistant manager believes that the auto manufacturer’s moves to appear younger and more modern led directly to his demotion. If true, this would be a clear act of age discrimination that could cost Volkswagen millions.

How perception can lead to mistakes

Age discrimination in the workplace are actions taken where the age of the employee plays a huge part in whether they are hired, promoted or given favorable projects. If a company was cultivating a reputation as a mover and shaker with high energy, that might color the perception of employment decisions.

Employers make decisions about hiring and promotion based on many, many factors, but anyone can perceive wrong-doing no matter what the circumstances. It is best when making sensitive employment decisions that employers are:

  • Open about their decision-making process and the candidates
  • Communicate to candidates exactly what they are looking for
  • Look at all candidates for a position with a critical eye to their work and qualifications
  • Actively address their own biases when considering the final decisions

Companies must take great pains to remain aware of how their corporate culture influences how their employees react. If a company makes a big show of valuing “new talent” it can alienate people who don’t exactly match that definition.

Culture shock

Trust is at the center of most discrimination lawsuits. Do you trust your employer made the choice ethically? Do you trust your employees with the full truth of your decision-making process? A breakdown in trust can lead to legal consequences that nobody wants to face.