Age Discrimination

Stereotyping people or groups because of their age is considered age discrimination. Any time a company favors younger employees over people who are older, it is age discrimination, even if the person displaying the discriminatory behavior is the same age as you or older. Consider the following questions to decide if age discrimination is happening in your workplace.

Biased comments: Do people in roles of authority at your workplace ask when you plan to retire, call you names such as "old man", or suggest they want to start replacing older people with a young workforce?

Comparisons: During layoffs or other disruptive events, is there a balance in the number of younger and older people who are let go? Were more younger, less-skilled people kept instead of experienced senior employees?

Disparate discipline: Do younger employees get away with doing things that older employees would be disciplined for?

Promotions: Do older people in your company get passed up for promotions that are given to younger, less-skilled people?

Favoritism: Do younger employees get access to better services, equipment, support, or assignments? Do people in positions of authority spend more time with them?

Harassment: Do people make jokes, threats, or display other unwelcome behaviors because of your age? Does it seem like people in roles of authority are trying to push you out of the company by doing things to make you unhappy?

Hiring: Does your company tend to hire only young people? Have you applied for a job that went to a younger, less-skilled person?

Performance management: Have you always received positive performance reviews but after hitting a milestone birthday, such as 50 or 60, are you seeing a negative change?

Understanding the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Federal and state governments have laws in place to make age discrimination illegal. The main one is the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). It protects people 40 years and older from workplace discrimination based on their age. It covers all parts of the employment process, including advertising for a job opening, applying or interviewing for a job, the hiring process, compensation, discipline, promotions, and terminations.

ADEA applies to the following companies and organizations:

  • Businesses with at least 20 employees

  • Recruitment agencies

  • Federal government

  • Local governments

  • Labor organizations with at least 25 members

The ADEA does not apply to:

  • Elected officials

  • Independent contractors

  • Military personnel

  • State employees

The ADEA makes exceptions for some special circumstances.

  • At age 65, companies can make people "in high policy-making positions" retire as long as their retirement pension benefits total $44,000 or more per year.

  • People working in police and fire services, tenured university employees, and some federal employees working in law enforcement and air traffic control should discuss possible exceptions with their employers.

  • While the ADEA does not ban employers from asking an applicant or employee's age or birthday, people may see the request as a way to discriminate against them. If age is a prerequisite for a specific job, a company can discriminate based on age.

Waiving Your Legal Rights Under ADEA

An employer can ask you to waive your rights or claims under the ADEA. To do so, you must sign a valid waiver. The waiver should:

  • Refer to the ADEA rights or claims

  • Be written in understandable language

  • Be in exchange for something of value that you would not otherwise receive

  • Not include future rights or claims

  • Be knowing and voluntary

  • Advise you to consult a lawyer before signing

  • Provide 21 days for consideration and 7 days to revoke it after signing

If you have a conversation with a person in authority about waiving your ADEA rights but do not sign anything in writing, it is not a valid waiver. Neither is signing a general release that asks you to waive all rights and claims against a company. In addition, if you sign a valid waiver in connection with an exit or termination program, there are more requirements.

Employee Benefit Protections Under ADEA

The ADEA protects employees from:

  • Being denied employee benefit plans because of their age

  • A reduction in life or health benefits due to their age

  • Being forced into early retirement

  • Using workforce reductions get rid of older employees

Under the ADEA, an employer can reduce benefits based on age only if the cost is of providing reduced benefits to older employees is the same as providing benefits to younger employees.

When Should I File a Claim?

If you feel you are the victim of age discrimination, you have the right to file a claim. To learn more about the claim process, call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at 800-669-4000 or visit the EEOC website. The ADEA protects you from punitive actions by your employer for filing a claim.

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