Thanks to everything from diminished retirement accounts in the wake of the recent recession to lifestyle improvements and the simple desire to keep doing what they love, more older Americans than ever are now working or actively looking for employment.   

While one would imagine that the skill and insight that come from decades of work experience would be highly valued in the workplace, the unfortunate reality is that many employers fail to see this and actually go out of their way to treat people less favorably owing to their age. 

As discouraging as this is, people should find much-needed solace in the fact that they are protected by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, otherwise known as the ADEA.

What exactly does the ADEA do?

As implied by its name, the ADEA dictates that employers with 20 or more employees cannot discriminate against employees or applicants based on age.

This protection against discrimination extends to any aspect of employment, including the following:

  • Job postings
  • Hiring/pre-employment inquiries
  • Termination/layoffs
  • Promotions
  • Compensation/benefits
  • Training
  • Job assignments

How old do workers have to be to secure the protection of the ADEA?

The ADEA’s protections extend to workers age 40 or older. In fact, it’s important to understand that the ADEA allows employers to favor older workers over younger workers — even in those situations where the younger worker is also 40 or older.

What about harassment?

The ADEA also protects older workers from illegal harassment based on their age. Harassment becomes illegal when it 1) becomes so regular or so severe that it serves to create an offensive or otherwise hostile work environment, or 2) results in an adverse employment decision (demotion, reduced benefits, etc.).

In other words, simple teasing, careless comments or isolated incidents won’t be enough.

We’ll continue discussing the protections of the ADEA in future posts, including how it functions during the hiring process.

In the meantime, if you believe that your employer has illegally discriminated against you in any capacity, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional to learn more about your options.