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What is Age Discrimination?

Legal content fact checked by Charles E. Joseph

Your questions about workers’ rights, answered

Age discrimination affects millions of workers. According to a 2018 AARP study, 61% of workers 45 or older have witnessed or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.

But what is age discrimination? What are some examples of age discrimination? What is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and what does it cover? 

Many workers have questions about age discrimination. Keep reading to learn more about your rights in the workplace.

What is age discrimination?

Age discrimination means treating a job applicant or employee less favorably because of their age. It can include refusing to hire an older job applicant or firing an employee because of their age. 

Age discrimination violates the law. Federal laws like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protect people from age discrimination.

Many state and local laws provide even stronger protections. For example, in New York City age discrimination laws cover all employees, regardless of age, while the ADEA only covers people 40 or older.

What is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a federal law passed in 1967. It bans employment discrimination on the basis of age.

For example, under the law employers cannot refuse to hire job applicants because they are over the age of 40. They also cannot deny a promotion or other employment benefits to a current employee because of their age.

The ADEA covers employees who work for companies with more than 20 employees. It prohibits age discrimination against employees who are 40 or older. State and local laws also protect younger workers from age discrimination.

What are examples of age discrimination?

Age discrimination can take several forms. Examples of age discrimination include refusing to hire a qualified applicant because of their age or refusing to promote an older employee because of their age.

There are also more subtle examples of age discrimination. For example, pressuring an older employee to retire or denying training to an older employee because they are close to retirement age can also violate the law.

For more examples of age discrimination, visit our guide to age discrimination in the workplace

What age is age discrimination?

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to employees who are 40 or older. Under the law, employers cannot refuse to hire or deny employment benefits to older employees. 

However, some state and local laws cover younger employees as well. For example, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination applies to victims of age discrimination regardless of their age. Similarly, New York law protects all employees from age-based discrimination.

These laws cover younger employees who were denied promotions, job opportunities, or other employment benefits for being too young.

What is age discrimination in the workplace?

Age discrimination in the workplace means treating an employee less favorably due to their age. It can include refusing to hire an older job applicant, denying a promotion to someone close to retirement age, or firing someone because of their age.

Under federal law, employers cannot discriminate against employees older than 40 because of their age. Many state and local laws protect employees of all ages from age discrimination.

What is considered age discrimination?

Under federal law, age discrimination covers any form of unfavorable treatment of an employee over 40 years old because of their age. Not hiring a job applicant because they’re “too old” or firing someone for their age qualify as age discrimination. 

Under many state and local laws, age discrimination protections apply to employees of all ages. For example, in New York City employers cannot discriminate against younger employees based on their age.

What is age discrimination called?

Age discrimination can also be called ageism or age-based prejudice.

However, only certain types of age discrimination violate workplace discrimination laws. For example, under federal law employers cannot treat an employee who is 40 or older less favorably because of their age. This qualifies as age discrimination.

What is the law on age discrimination?

Several different age discrimination laws protect employees. At the federal level, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees 40 or older from unfavorable treatment in the workplace. 

In addition to federal law, state and local laws also protect employees from age discrimination. These laws may provide stronger penalties or damages than federal law.

For example, under New Jersey, New York State, and New York City law, victims of age discrimination can receive punitive damages and damages for emotional pain and suffering, which are not allowed under the ADEA. 

What is needed to prove age discrimination?

Proving age discrimination can be difficult. Employees can strengthen their case by taking notes and saving copies of emails or messages that contain evidence of discrimination. Make sure to communicate any concerns to HR or a supervisor in writing.

An employment lawyer can provide additional guidance on proving your age discrimination case.

What are some examples of age-based harassment?

Age-based harassment means offensive or unwelcome comments based on someone’s age. Age-based harassment can include jokes or comments about someone’s age, offensive drawings or cartoons, or other verbal and physical conduct based on an individual’s age.

The perpetrator can be any age – an older employee can still be guilty of age-based harassment.

Can an employer ask about your age?

Under federal law, employers can ask for a job applicant’s age. However, depending on how the employer asks, this may constitute age discrimination.

If the employer asks in a way that discourages older workers from applying or shows an intent to discriminate, asking for a job applicant’s age can violate the law. 

Do age discrimination laws cover retaliation?

Yes; federal, state, and local age discrimination laws provide retaliation protections. This means that if you complain about age discrimination to your employer, you cannot be fired, demoted, or harassed for reporting age discrimination.

These retaliation protections cover you even if a court or the EEOC determines no age discrimination occurred as long as in good faith you reasonably believed that it did.

What can you do about age discrimination?

If you face age discrimination in the workplace, you have legal rights. Federal, state, and local laws protect employees from age discrimination. You can contact an employment lawyer to learn more about filing a claim. 

If you’re in the New York City area, contact employment lawyer Charles Joseph for a free consultation. You may have an age discrimination claim against your employer.

Read more about discrimination protections, how to file a claim, and potential damages.

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