As its name suggests, age discrimination is any act by an employer purporting to treat an individual differently based solely upon that person’s age. Employers are bound by state and federal laws to avoid discriminatory practices in the workplace that unlawfully restrict or single out certain workers under the assumption they are too old to perform the work or it would be cheaper to procure a younger employee with less experience who will earn less.
Federal laws protect employees from unfavorable treatment based on age. This includes a wide range of employer acts such as hiring, firing, wage and benefit determination, job promotions, assignments, training, fringe benefits and firing. Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list and any age-based discrimination is considered unlawful under federal guidelines. Protections against age discrimination are also in place to protect workers against unlawful harassment based on age as well. Harassing conduct includes that which is derogatory or offensive to another person and regards that person’s age. The harassment can come from a supervisor, colleague or subordinate and must be substantial enough to create a hostile work environment.
Occasionally, an employer will attempt to put a policy in place that, on its face, applies to the entire workforce but in practice only applies to those of a certain age group. A work policy violates age discrimination laws if it has a negative impact on workers or job applicants over age 40 and is not based on any reasonable factor other than age.
Federal laws in place protect those age 40 and above. There are no federal protections for employees who have not reached age 40, however many states have enacted legislation to protect younger age groups from age-based discrimination. It is important to stay up-to-date on your state’s age discrimination laws and to always be alert in any situation where age discrimination is suspected.