Laws About Age Discrimination

April 19, 2016

Age discrimination against employees at least forty years old has been deemed illegal in most circumstances since President Johnson signed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) into law in 1967. The ADEA applies to employers (of interstate commerce) who employ twenty or more employees.

The ADEA does not permit:

  1. Age discrimination in hiring, firing, job assignments, training, fringe benefits, promotions, wages, or layoffs
  2. Job notices with an expressed age preference or limitation
  3. The denial of benefits to older employees; also, employers may not reduce benefits to older workers if it costs the same as providing benefits to younger workers
  4. Mandatory retirement in most sectors
  5. Harassment due to age that is so frequent and severe, it creates a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision.

Age limits may be legally specified when age has been shown to be a “bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business”, or, in other words, a BFOQ. An example of a BFOQ is a movie who needs to show a young character. In this case, production is allowed to seek and hire a young actress to play that young character. Age selection is also permitted for public safety reasons, for example age limits exist for pilots.

On the flip side, employers can always discharge an employee for reasons other than age, even if that person is over the age of 40. For example:

  1. BFOQ, seniority systems, employee benefits or early retirement plans;
  2. Voluntary early retirement incentives;
  3. When employer hires a candidate for less money and the decision disproportionately impacts older candidates; or
  4. When an employer terminates employees based on salary and this decision coincidentally impacts older employees.

If an employee believes she has been discriminated against based on age, she can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or the EEOC). The EEOC is a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC investigates claims and may settle claims as well as file civil discrimination suits against employers on behalf of alleged victims and to adjudicate claims of discrimination.

How to Utilize the EEOC

First, contact Equal Employment Office Counselor at the closest EEOC agency within 45 days after discrimination occurs. The employee will be offered a choice to go through EEO counseling or a mediation program. If the (EEO counseling or mediation) does not settle the complaint, then the employee can file a formal complaint, within 15 days from the date they receive notice from EEO about how to file a complaint.

How to File a Formal Complaint

After a formal complaint is filed, the EEOC reviews it to see if it should be dismissed for a procedural reason, such as late filing. If it’s not dismissed, the EEOC will conduct an investigation.

After the EEOC issues its decision, either side has the ability to appeal. An employee must go through the administrative process before filing a lawsuit.

If you believe you’re experiencing age discrimination, reach out to Parks, Chesin & Walbert to learn more about your rights.

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