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Age Discrimination: An Age-Old Problem

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

Forgive the pun, but age discrimination is an age-old problem that employers often ignore.

Almost everyone knows that you can't put up an ad looking only for employees of a specific race or religion. But how many employers know that you can't discriminate against older workers either?

And if they do know, how come we still see so many job advertisements looking for "recent college grads" and so many older applicants being passed over for promotions in favor of less experienced, younger, candidates?

The federal law that prohibits age discrimination in the workplace is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Pursuant to this act, employers cannot discriminate against employees or applicants who are 40 older based on their age. In addition to the ADEA, many states also have similar laws that mirror the ADEA's requirements or provide for an even lower age of protection.

Under these laws, age discrimination generally involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his age. The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Some areas that employers frequently get into trouble can include:

  • Not knowing that the age discrimination protections apply to both current employees as well as applicants for employment;

  • Creating job advertisements filled with language that suggests a preference for younger workers;

  • Forcing older workers to retire early and having other mandatory retirement-age policies; and

  • Forcing older workers to pay higher insurance premiums.

Businesses should consider working with an employment attorney when creating job ads, developing retirement policies, or taking any other action which may impact older workers. Age discrimination can be tricky, and may not be as obvious as the other types of discrimination.

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