Age discrimination in the workplace persists as a serious and pervasive problem. Charges of age discrimination spiked during the Great Recession. It’s not easy to win if you file a complaint, but there are ways to bolster your case. Read on to learn about the law that protects you and what you can do if you or someone you know becomes a victim of age discrimination.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that protects workers and job applicants age 40 and over from age-based discrimination in all aspects of employment. The ADEA does not apply to elected officials, independent contractors or military personnel. The law does apply to:
- Employers with at least 20 employees
- Employment agencies
- The federal government
- State and local government (though remedies are often limited)
- Labor organizations with at least 25 members
In addition, every state has a law that prohibits age discrimination in employment. Most state laws apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees, and often provide stronger protection for older workers than federal law.
The time limits for filing complaints and the procedures for resolving them differ from state to state and from the federal ADEA. The Workplace Fairness website provides information on each state’s discrimination law.
How the ADEA Protects You
The ADEA prohibits age discrimination in decisions about hiring, firing, layoffs, pay, benefits, promotions, demotions, performance reviews or any other condition of employment.
Under the ADEA, employers can’t:
- Mention age or say that a certain age is preferred in job ads and recruiting materials; it is questionable but not automatically illegal to ask for date of birth or graduation on a job application
- Set age limits for training programs
- Retaliate against you if you file charges of age discrimination or help the government investigate charges
- Force you to retire at a certain age (except for a few narrow exceptions)
The law also prohibits policies and practices that have a “disparate impact” on older workers. These are policies that appear to be age-neutral but fall more harshly on older workers. An example is a school district that announces it won’t hire teachers with more than 20 years of experience. Policies or practices that have a disproportionately adverse impact on older workers are unlawful unless the employer can prove they are based on a reasonable factor other than age.
Employee Benefit Protections
Under the ADEA, you can’t be denied the opportunity to participate in your employer’s benefit plans because of your age. Employers also can’t reduce benefits based on age, unless the cost of providing the benefit increases with age. In these instances, the employer must incur the same cost for providing the benefits to older workers as it does for younger workers in order to comply with the ADEA.