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Age Discrimination Fact Sheet

What you need to know about the ADEA, losing a job and finding a new one

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Your best defense against age discrimination is information. It’s worth your time to learn how the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects you against age bias in the workplace. You also need to learn about the limits of the law.

See also: You've lost your job. What's next?

The ADEA is a federal law that protects workers age 40 and over from age-based discrimination in hiring and in every other aspect of employment.

How the ADEA Protects You

The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of age. This includes decisions about hiring, firing, layoffs, pay, benefits, promotions, demotions, performance reviews, or any other condition of employment.

Specifically, the ADEA says:

  • Job ads or recruitment materials cannot mention age or say that a certain age is preferred.
  • Employers cannot set age limits for training programs.
  • Employers cannot retaliate against workers who file charges of age discrimination or who help the government investigate age-discrimination charges.
  • Except for a few very narrow exceptions, employers cannot force employees to retire at a certain age.

An important note about firing: We have what’s called “employment at will” in this country. This means an employer can fire you for any reason, as long as it’s not based on a prohibited factor such as age, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or disability. There does not have to be a lawful reason; there simply must not be an unlawful reason.

“Disparate Impact”

Employees can challenge policies and practices that do not mention age, but in fact fall more harshly on older workers. Example: A school district announces that it will not hire any new teachers with more than 10 years of experience. This type of case is known as one arising out of “disparate impact.”

Policies or practices that have a significantly adverse impact on older workers are unlawful unless the employer can prove that they are based on a “reasonable factor other than age.”

What the ADEA Covers

The ADEA makes it illegal for employers, employment agencies, and the federal government to discriminate against employees and job applicants who are age 40 and over and work for employers with at least 20 employees.

The ADEA also prohibits age discrimination by local and state governments. In addition, it covers employment agencies and labor organizations, such as unions, that have at least 25 members.

Every state also has a law prohibiting age discrimination in employment. Most state laws apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees.

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