Age discrimination in the workplace


ChangingCoursesquareRecently, several companies have been on the receiving end of age discrimination lawsuits after implementing large-scale lay-offs. In light of these cases, let’s look at what is age discrimination, age harassment and commonly asked questions.

What is age discrimination?

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. The Act, which applies to all ages, permits the use of certain age distinctions and factors other than age that meet the Act’s requirements.

discriminationThe Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

The ADEA permits employers to favor older workers based on age even when doing so adversely affects a younger worker who is 40 or older. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

What is age harassment?

Age harassment involves unwelcome and offensive conduct in the workplace that is based on a person’s age (age 40 or older). The harasser can be a supervisor, a coworker, or someone who does not work for the employer, such as a client or customer. Age harassment can include age-based jokes or comments, offensive cartoons, drawing, symbols, or gestures, and other verbal and physical conduct based on an individual’s age.

Employees under age 40 are not protected from age discrimination by the laws enforced by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), although some state and local laws protect younger workers.

Finally, the laws enforced by EEOC protect you from being punished or harassed at work because you or someone you closely associate with (for example, a relative or close friend) complains about age discrimination.

Can my employer ask about my age?

Federal law does not prohibit employers from asking an applicant’s age or date of birth. However, because such questions may discourage older workers from applying for jobs or may otherwise indicate a possible intent to discriminate based on age, employers should ensure that they ask about age only for a lawful purpose.

Can employers assign work based on employees’ ages?

Employers may not assign work based on employees’ ages, even if the employer believes the assignments will benefit the workers. For example, a store manager cannot assign an older worker to work with only senior citizen shoppers. However, it is permissible for a manager to not give a work assignment to an employee based on his or her lack of experience. For example, a manager may choose to not give a fundraising assignment to an employee who does not have fundraising experience, regardless of the employee’s age.

What should you do if you experience age discrimination in the workplace?

If you believe that you have experienced age discrimination at work, notify your human resources representative to investigate your claim internally. The goal of the investigation is to determine a pattern of behavior which supports the claim. The time limit for filing an age discrimination claim with EEOC is 180 days.

As an employee, you are protected against retaliation. It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.


Tammy McIntyre, M.Ed. is a workforce development consultant providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to

One Comment on “Age discrimination in the workplace”

  1. Great article except for the part about notifying human resources. If the age discrimination comes from management, the tendency for human resources personnel is to protect management, not the worker. In other words, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. To be perfectly honest, law or no law, when mangement decides to harass you because of your age, start looking for another job. The law is good in theory but not so good in practice because it can be very difficult to prove. Most types of harassement are subtle and clever.

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