The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 and older from age discrimination in employment, making them a protected class in the limited context of employment. Under the ADEA, no person can:

  • Be forced to retire based on age.
  • Not be refused to be hired based on age.
  • Be refused a referral for work based on age.

Who Does the ADEA Apply To?

The ADEA does not apply to all employees and employers. Generally, the ADEA applies to:

  • Workplaces with 20 or more employees.
  • Federal employees, private sector employees, and labor union employees.

Individuals who are not protected by ADEA include:

  • State employees
  • Executives
  • Those in high policy-making positions who receive $44,000 in annual retirement pension benefits
  • Police and fire personnel, tenured university faculty, and certain federal employees
  • People who hold jobs where age is important to the job

However, even if the ADEA does not apply to you, every state except South Dakota prohibits age discrimination in employment. Often, state laws provide greater protection than federal law by including people younger than 40.

Are there Other Laws That Protect against Age Discrimination?

The Federal Older Workers Benefit Protection Act also protects against age discrimination. The Act's provisions:

  • Make it illegal for employers to use an employee's age to discriminate in benefits or to target older workers for layoffs.
  • Regulate legal waivers that employees are asked to sign in connection with early retirement programs. If you are faced with such a package, you may be able to negotiate the terms of your departure. You do not have to merely accept or reject the offer; you can negotiate and make a counteroffer.
  • Restricts agreements where employees waive the right to sue.

What Should I Do If I Believe I Have Been Discriminated Against?

If you believe that you are a victim of age discrimination, you should file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If the EEOC does not resolve your complaint, you should consider contacting an experienced employment lawyer. An employment lawyer can help you sue your former employer for discrimination.