The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) is a federal law prohibiting age discrimination against people 40 years old or older in the workplace. The ADEA is designed to protect workers from being discriminated against on the basis of their age and provides them with legal remedies if they experience age discrimination. The ADEA applies to both current employees and job applicants, and it applies to employers who have 20 or more employees.
The ADEA covers a wide range of workplace decisions, including hiring, firing, promotions, wages, and workplace conditions. An employer cannot discriminate against an individual based on their age when making any of these decisions. For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire someone because they are over 40 years old, nor can they promote a younger employee over a more mature employee based solely on their age.
If an individual experiences age discrimination in the workplace, they can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the ADEA. The EEOC will investigate the complaint and determine whether there is evidence of age discrimination. If the EEOC finds evidence of age discrimination, it may file a lawsuit against the employer on behalf of the employee.
If an employer is found to have violated the ADEA, they may be liable for back pay, front pay, damages, and attorneys’ fees. In addition to these legal consequences, employers may suffer reputational damage and harm to their business.
Taking proactive steps to prevent age discrimination can help ensure a fair and inclusive workplace for all employees. If you are over 40 years old, own a business, or are in a supervisory position, it is essential to know when the ADEA applies and to ensure that your employment practices comply with the law. You should also be mindful of other age-based and discrimination laws that could apply to workplace decisions, such as state and local laws.
What Individuals and Employers are Subject to the ADEA?
The ADEA does not apply to all employers. Generally, the ADEA only applies to private businesses that employ 20 or more people, the federal government, state governments, local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
If a person works for a small business with fewer than 20 employees, they may not be protected by the ADEA. However, many states have laws that protect workers from age discrimination in these situations. It is crucial to be aware of the laws in your state and to seek legal counsel if you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of your age.
Additionally, there are some exclusions to the ADEA’s protections. For example, independent contractors, elected officials of a state or political subdivision, and the staff, immediate advisers, and policymakers of an elected officer are not covered by the ADEA. In addition, certain occupations, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, may have mandatory age requirements that do not violate the ADEA.
Even if the ADEA does not apply to a particular employer or individual, there may still be state and local laws that protect against age discrimination. Many of these laws are more comprehensive than the ADEA and may provide additional protections for workers, including protection against age discrimination against younger people.
What Protections Does the ADEA Afford to Individuals?
Under the ADEA, people 40 and over are considered to be a protected class for employment law purposes. Employers are prohibited from engaging in various discriminatory actions against individuals based on their age.
Some of the actions that the ADEA prohibits include the following:
- Forcing retirement because of age.
- Refusing to hire someone based on their age.
- Refusing to provide a job referral based on someone’s age.
- firing or laying off an employee based on their age.
- Passing over an employee for a promotion because of their age.
- Using age as a factor for determination of compensation or benefits.
- Failing to provide training or job assignments to an employee because of their age.
- Harassing an employee because of their age.
In addition to these actions, the ADEA also prohibits employers from retaliating against someone for opposing age discrimination practices and taking any other action related to a term, condition, or employment privilege rooted in age discrimination.
The ADEA also provides protections in other circumstances, such as when posting job advertisements. Age preferences or limitations should never be included in job advertisements unless the employer can show that age is a bona fide occupational qualification for the specific position. An occupational qualification like this is a rare exception and is only allowed in limited circumstances.
How Do I Make a Claim Under the ADEA?
If you believe you have been subjected to age discrimination in the workplace, there are several steps you can take to seek legal remedies.
One option is to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether there is evidence of age discrimination. If the EEOC finds evidence of discrimination, it may attempt to settle the claim with the employer. If a settlement cannot be reached, the EEOC may file a lawsuit on behalf of the individual.
If the EEOC issues a right-to-sue letter, the individual may then file a civil lawsuit against the employer. In a civil lawsuit, the individual must prove that the employer engaged in age discrimination. To prevail in the lawsuit, the individual must present strong evidence of discrimination, such as emails, texts, and witness statements illustrating age discrimination. Statistics and history within the company regarding certain employment actions that favor younger individuals can also help the case.
Employers may have defenses to age discrimination claims. For example, an employer may argue that the employment decision was not based on age but instead on other factors like poor performance or another candidate having a better experience. Additionally, the employer may argue that age is a bona fide occupational qualification for the position, which is a rare exception to the ADEA.
When considering whether to pursue a lawsuit, the individual must evaluate their chances of prevailing in court and the expected costs. Consult with an attorney who is experienced in age discrimination cases to assess the strength of the case and explore legal options.
In an age discrimination lawsuit, people may seek monetary damages and the opportunity to be rehired by the employer. Document all evidence of age discrimination and be prepared to present a strong case in court to achieve the best outcome.
Should I Contact a Lawyer if I Believe I Have Been Discriminated Against?
If you believe you have been a victim of age discrimination in the workplace, consult with an experienced discrimination lawyer to understand your rights and options. A local discrimination lawyer can guide you on whether you have a case for age discrimination under the ADEA or any other applicable law.
An attorney can help you prepare your administrative charge and gather important documents from the employer. Gathering important documents may include emails, performance reviews, or other documents that could support your claim. A lawyer can also represent your interests in court if it reaches that point, advocating for your rights and seeking to achieve the best outcome possible.
In addition to providing legal guidance, an attorney can also provide emotional support during this difficult time. Discrimination can be a traumatic experience, and it is important to have someone on your side who can help you navigate the legal process and provide a sense of security.