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Getting older presents many challenges. Putting up with your employer treating you unfairly because of your age shouldn’t be one of them. Yet employers often treat older workers less favorably than their younger counterparts. But older employees aren’t powerless. In the United States, it’s illegal to discriminate against an employee because of their age.
This article discusses age discrimination in the workplace. States have different employment laws, so you should contact an employment lawyer in your area if you have questions or need help. An experienced attorney can explain the relevant state and federal laws to you and advise you about your rights and options.
Age discrimination is when an employer treats you less favorably because of your age. Job applicants and employees can be subject to age discrimination, and it can happen in any aspect of employment, from hiring to termination.
Older employees are often the victims of age discrimination, but younger workers can also experience these discriminatory practices.
Federal and state laws protect against age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is the principal federal law. The ADEA protects you from age discrimination if you’re 40 years old or older. The act doesn’t protect you if you’re under 40 years of age, but some state laws protect younger workers.
The ADEA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including the following:
- Firing and layoffs
- Pay and benefits
- Job assignments
The act also makes it illegal to harass someone because of their age. Harassment includes derogatory and offensive comments about someone’s age.
The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) is another law. Older employees are closer to drawing their pension. Their health insurance is also more expensive. The OWBPA makes it illegal for an employer to fire an older employee to avoid paying benefits.
It’s not age discrimination when age is a bona fide occupational qualification for the job. For instance, hiring a child actor to play a 10-year-old character is not discriminatory. It’s also not age discrimination when your employer favors an older employee over a younger one. Employers are also able to fire older workers for valid reasons like poor work performance or violating company policy.
It’s not illegal under the ADEA for an employer to ask for your age or date of birth on an application. But employers should wait until after hiring to ask your age if it needs to know for a lawful purpose.
Some states have laws that add to the federal protections. For example, some states lower the age limit for protection.
The ADEA applies to companies with 20 or more employees. The law includes employment agencies and labor unions. But it doesn’t apply to independent contractors and elected officials. State laws may cover employers with fewer than 20 employees.
The ADEA covers federal and local governments. But Supreme Court rulings limit a state employee’s protections under the law. State laws may still protect state employees, though. You should contact an employment attorney to discuss your unique situation.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADEA. You can file a complaint if you’re an older person and think your employer discriminated against you on the basis of your age. Most states have a state agency that enforces its age discrimination laws. A local employment lawyer can help you decide where to file a complaint.
Proving age discrimination can be difficult. Your employer likely won’t admit it fired you because of your age. It will instead claim that it fired you for a valid reason.
You don’t need direct evidence to win an age discrimination case. The discrimination also doesn’t need to be intentional. Instead, you must show that your boss wouldn’t have fired you if it wasn’t for your age.
Take the following steps to improve your chances of winning:
- Collect emails and other written documents. These can show that your boss used your age to make employment decisions.
- Get statements and contact information from anyone who saw or heard the discrimination.
- Compare how your boss treated you to how they treated younger employees. Try to show that your boss treated similarly situated younger employees more favorably.
- Look for a pattern of age discrimination in your company.
- Get copies of your performance reviews. Also, document achievement and positive feedback you received from your boss and coworkers. This information can counter claims that your boss fired you for poor performance.
The remedies in an age discrimination case are intended to make you whole. That means the goal is to put you in the same position you would have been in had the discrimination not occurred. What remedies are available depends on the discriminatory action.
The remedies you can win in a case alleging termination based on age include the following:
- Getting your job back
- Back pay
- Liquidated damages
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
You can’t recover compensatory or punitive damages in an age case. But you can win liquidated damages, which are designed to punish egregious acts of discrimination.
Age discrimination laws make it illegal for your employer to treat you less favorably because of your age, so you do not have to put up with it from an employer or coworkers. If you think you are the victim of age discrimination, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer with experience in these types of cases. They can explain the laws and give you legal advice about your situation and put you in the best position for getting justice.