What Is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)?

Learn About the ADEA

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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from making hiring and promotion decisions based on workers' or applicants' ages. It was signed into law in 1967.

If you think all employers equate age with experience and therefore a law like this is unnecessary, the following statistics prove otherwise. In spite of it being illegal for over 50 years, some employers are not deterred from discriminating against employees and job applicants because of their age. In Fiscal Year 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that interprets and enforces employment discrimination laws, received 16,911 complaints about age discrimination (Age Discrimination in Employment Act FY 1997 - FY 2017.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

Authors David Neumark, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button wrote, in Age Discrimination and Hiring of Older Workers (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter, February 27, 2017), that older workers received fewer callbacks for job interviews than younger ones, older female applicants received fewer callbacks for administrative assistant and sales jobs, and older male applicants were called back less frequently than their younger counterparts who applied for janitor and security positions. The discrimination appears, according to the study, to be more pronounced against female than male applicants.

The number of complaints the EEOC receives and Neumark's, Burn's, and Button's research remind us that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is still very necessary. While most employers don't consider age when making hiring and other employment decisions, many still do. If you're over a certain age—and if you aren't now, you will be someday—pay attention. You may need the protection of the ADEA.

What Does the Age Discrimination in Employment Act Do?

The ADEA states that organizations with at least 20 employees may not take age into account when hiring job candidates or promoting employees. It protects individuals who are at least 40 years old. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Must the Victim of Age Discrimination Be Older Than the Accused?

It is important to note that the person who discriminates may be the same age or even older than the victim.

According to the ADEA, the following actions are unlawful:

  • An employer can't decide whether or not to hire applicants because of their age and cannot discriminate based on this factor when recruiting job candidates, advertising for a job, or testing applicants.
  • A company can't fire workers because of their age.
  • An employer can't use age to classify, segregate, or limit employees if this will negatively affect their status or deprive them of advancement opportunities.
  • Workers' pay can't be based on age.
  • An employer may only take age into account when making an employment-related decision if it is in regard to an authentic qualification necessary for the business's operation.
  • One's manager, a supervisor in another area, a coworker, or client is forbidden from creating a hostile work environment by harassing individuals about their age.
  • An employer cannot enact any policy that negatively impacts employees or applicants because of their age and is not based on another reasonable factor.
  • An amendment to the ADEA, The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act forbids organizations from using age to determine benefits and targeting older workers when making staff cuts. It also requires employers to follow specific safeguards when asking older workers to sign a waiver giving up their right to sue for age discrimination.

    How to File a Claim of Age Discrimination

    If you think you have been a victim of discrimination that is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, file a claim with the EEOC. There is a time limit of 180 calendar days for employees. It is extended to 300 days if your state has an age discrimination law and an agency or authority that enforces it. Job applicants must file a claim within 45 days.

    Go to the EEOC Public Portal to file a charge of age discrimination, submit an inquiry, or schedule an appointment at any EEOC field office. You can also visit any office without making an appointment. Call the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 to discuss your case with an EEOC representative who can advise you if it is covered by the ADEA. However, you can only file a claim online or in person. Have documentation that supports your claim ready, including the names of any individuals who witnessed it.

    Sources: Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Age Discrimination and How to File a Claim of Employment Discrimination.