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How to Identify Age Discrimination in the Employment Act

Dena Standley | January 06, 2023

Dena Standley
Legal Expert, Paralegal
Dena Standley, BA

Dena Standley is a seasoned paralegal with more than 20 years of experience in legal research and writing, having received a certification as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal from Southern Technical College.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

You have rights when it comes to age discrimination.

Summary: It's against the law for your employer or employment bureau to discriminate against you because of your age. If you are 40 years or older, you can invoke the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to defend yourself. Learn how to identify signs of age-based discrimination with this guide from SoloSuit.

For years, it was acceptable for employers to hire, fire, or promote employees based solely on their age. Older workers, especially, suffered because of the unsubstantiated belief that they had too little to offer. But that changed with the establishment of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in 1967.

Since 1967, age has become a “protected characteristic” in most workplaces. So no one should pass you up for a promotion, exclude you, or harass you because of your age. Sadly, despite such positive developments, age discrimination at work is still common.

The law can protect you when an employer or coworker makes decisions about your capabilities or employment based on your age. But first, you need to understand how ageism manifests itself today, as many employers have mastered camouflaging age discrimination.

This article will unpack the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) using less plain language to help you identify this illegal practice at your workplace.

Here’s how the ADEA prohibits discrimination based on age

In order to prevent older workers from feeling disadvantaged in their efforts to retain their jobs and regain employment after being displaced from their job, United States Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act which prohibits the following practices by employers of all types:

  • Replacing older works with younger ones
  • Unfairly passing up older workers during promotions
  • Laying off older employees
  • Limiting the company to hiring fresh graduates
  • Encouraging workers over 40 to retire early
  • Verbal harassment involving age
  • Isolating and demoralizing employees

Below, we’ll break down each of these rules in detail.

Replacing older workers with younger ones

If you notice that your workplace is slowly filling up with younger workers at the expense of people over 40, the company may be guilty of age discrimination.

To hide their real motive, some employers may eliminate a position held by an older person making them redundant, only to hire a younger person with a different title but the same duties.

According to the ADEA, you have the right to remain in the workforce for as long as you want, provided you are productive and meet your employer's reasonable requirements. Consult an employment law attorney if your employer denies you that right only because they consider you old.

Unfairly passing up older workers during promotions

Promotion opportunities should depend on qualifications and not the employee’s age. So an employer who turns you down but promotes a younger, less qualified contestant, should explain their actions.

Remember that you should be able to prove that there were no other legitimate reasons why your employer may have rejected your wishes for promotion.

Laying off older employees

The constantly changing economic scene means that layoffs will happen from time to time. However, that does not permit an employer to target older employees.

Even if your employer conceals their actions by firing a few younger employees, you may still build your case and win. Hiring an attorney can improve the strength of your case.

Limiting the company to hiring fresh graduates

Age discrimination starts way before you even set foot in the office. Some employers place vacancy advertisements that cap the age of applicants. Others ask you to apply using your college email address. Such practices automatically cut off older workers without considering their abilities.

Several high-technology innovation companies (also known as Silicon Valley companies) have been guilty of overlooking older employees. Such companies wrongly assume that these employees are too slow, disinterested, or unable to keep up with technological developments.

Encouraging workers over 40 to retire early

Companies that want to eradicate the older workforce typically encourage them to leave voluntarily by offering buyouts and other early retirement incentives.

You can tell these buyouts are biased if the employer targets people over 40. Before signing the separation agreement, consult with an employment disputes attorney.

Keep in mind that there is no mandatory retirement age except in a few sectors that require proof of physical fitness, such as for pilots, firefighters, and military employees. You should be able to work for as long as you want and can do so.

Verbal harassment

One-off inappropriate age-related remarks, although hurtful, may not be significant enough to warrant attention. But if the workplace is riddled with constant degrading speech, including stereotypic titles and references about age, then you should bring it up. Such harassment can interfere with your work and lead others to underestimate your abilities.

Isolating and demoralizing employees

Being part of the team and having contact with the management is necessary for continued productivity. Employers know this. So, to demoralize you, they may move you to a different work site, excluding you from meetings and regular team-building activities.

Additionally, your boss may slowly start overlooking you when there's a challenging task in your workflow. Even though you may be willing and qualified, they may use such excuses as “sparing you” or letting you “take it easy.”

It's not okay for employers to discriminate against you based on age. If you feel strong enough and motivated to work, no one should take that opportunity from you. Research has shown that hiring older workers has more benefits than previously thought. And the establishment of ADEA should empower you to stand up for your rights.

Stand up for your rights

If you are a victim of age discrimination in the workplace, you can file a civil lawsuit against your employer (or potential employer). Before filing a suit, you will have to report the discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and wait 60 days.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will use informal methods of conciliation, conference, and persuasion before a lawsuit begins. If this doesn’t work, you can take the matter to court and be compensated.

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