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What to Know About Age Discrimination Protections

Lia Kopin-Green
November 8, 2023

The issue of age discrimination becomes increasingly relevant as we grow older. Understanding and enforcing age discrimination is crucial in order to protect older adults, who can be particularly vulnerable to bias. Fortunately, the United States government has several safeguards in place in order to protect older adults from the consequences of age discrimination. In this informative article, we will navigate through the complexities of this pressing issue and provide valuable guidance to help protect the aging population from discrimination.

Understanding Age Discrimination

Age discrimination generally involves treating someone less than favorably due to his or her age. In most cases, age discrimination is referred to in an employment setting. This refers to making employment-related decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotions, or compensation, based on a person's age rather than their abilities or qualifications. In this article, our primary focus will be on this particular form of age discrimination. However, it is essential to keep in mind that age discrimination can occur in a variety of instances beyond employment, such as workplace compensation, housing, healthcare, and education. It typically affects older workers, such as those 40 years old and up. Examples include not hiring older applicants because of assumptions they lack new skills or have health issues, or providing inadequate treatment in a hospital due to a person’s age. Harassment, insults, and denying opportunities to older workers is also considered age discrimination when it creates a hostile work environment. 

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal statute that forbids age discrimination in the United States against people who are age 40 or older. The law protects against discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. For instance, according to the ADEA, it is illegal to deny a promotion to an older adult simply because they are older. This means that qualifications, experience, and performance should be the determining factors, not the individual's age.

The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments, as well as employment agencies and labor organizations. It is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against must file a charge with the EEOC before they can file a lawsuit against the employer.

Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA)

In 1990, the ADEA was amended to include the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA). This federal law requires employers to offer older workers benefits that are equal to or, in some cases, cost the employer as much as the benefits it offers to younger workers. This is to prevent employers from reducing benefits to older employees simply because those benefits might cost more. It also applies to early retirement incentives and severance benefits offered by companies that are contingent on an employee waiving their rights to future age discrimination claims. This makes sure the employee has all the information they need to decide if they should sign the waiver or not. If an agreement fails to meet OWBPA requirements, impacted employees can pursue ADEA claims regardless of what they signed.


Certain forms of age discrimination can be classified as harassment. As per the ADEA, it is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her age. Examples of unlawful age-related harassment under the ADEA could include using derogatory insults about the employee's age, making offensive jokes related to age, excluding or isolating the employee due to their age, and assigning more unfavorable work tasks solely because of age. In general, the law is particularly concerned with behavior that is severe enough to create a hostile work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating or abusive. Employers are required by law to create and enforce policies that prevent age-related harassment and to take immediate and appropriate action when they become aware of such conduct. This includes investigating complaints and taking steps to ensure such behavior is promptly addressed and ceased. Individuals who have experienced harassment due to age discrimination are also advised to consult with an attorney.

State Laws

It should be noted that many states have their own laws prohibiting age discrimination. In some cases, these laws provide an additional layer of protection against discrimination against older adults in the workplace. In other words, state laws may override specific criteria that are required to be met under the ADEA. For instance, a state may ban age discrimination even in cases where an employer has less than 20 employees. Alternatively, some state laws may also protect younger workers from age discrimination and not just those over the age of 40. Before filing an age discrimination claim, it is imperative to check the specific laws in your state. It is advised to work with a specialized elder law attorney who is familiar with the regulations in your jurisdiction.

Seeking Justice

Age discrimination remains a critical issue to address as the population ages. Consulting with an elder law attorney can help aging adults understand their rights and legal options in the face of age discrimination. With proper legal guidance, older adults can assert their equal rights and dignity in employment and all aspects of life. Connect with an expert elder law attorney today with Attorney At Law.

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