What Is The Legal Definition Of “Age Discrimination?”

You’ve already heard the news: the boomers are growing older and employers are hiring younger. This isn’t a lie! Nearly three billion people are over the age of 40. Under three billion are under the age of 20. You can conclude two things from these statistics. One, a big chunk of the world’s population is not yet working age. Two, a second big chunk of the world’s population is about to retire. What about everyone else? Oddly enough, this is why so many people face “age discrimination.”

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “age discrimination” occurs when someone over the age of 40 faces discrimination because of their age: “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40, although some states have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination. It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older.”

What are the takeaways? 

First, the victim of age discrimination can only be over the age of 40. Second, no discrimination occurred if a favored job applicant was also over the age of 40. Discrimination may have occurred if a favored job applicant was under the age of 40 and the victim was over the age of 40. Make sense? Usually, age discrimination cases involve claims of forced retirement or being passed over for promotion when a victim is already employed with a particular company. It is very difficult to prove age discrimination during the application process — although it does occur.

Not sure if you have a case? A discrimination attorney can help clear up any misconceptions you have about the relevant legal statutes or answer any questions.

Age-related harassment is only illegal when it constitutes a hostile work environment. Teasing is not considered harassment under age discrimination law.

Most employers have employment agreements that forbid discrimination or harassment based on the law. Employment agreements that “apply to everyone, regardless of age, can be illegal” according to the EEOC. That’s because certain practices that might be fair to younger employees might be unreasonable when applied towards older employees. 

For example, an employment contract that requires an applicant to regularly lift large amounts of weight might be illegal under certain circumstances. A smart employer will remove this stipulation from the contract itself — and then add it to a particular job’s expected tasks. That way, older employees who are not as physically able can still perform more reasonable tasks under a different title.

Age discrimination might also occur when an employer terminates an older employee without cause and then hires a younger employee to fill the same position. Usually, the new employee is paid less than the older employee. Another example of age-related discrimination occurs when the vast majority of a laid-off workforce is over the age of 40.