The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination and harassment against people who are 40 and older. Have you experienced age-related bias at work?
It can be a touchy subject. Even an employer asking about your age can seem vaguely threatening, although it is generally legal for them to do so.
What is prohibited by the ADEA?
Making any decision based on a worker’s age (40 and over) could be illegal in any aspect of employment, as long as the employer is covered by the ADEA. This includes hiring, compensation, benefits, assignments, training, advancement, discipline, layoffs and terminations. It is illegal to harass people 40 and over based on their age. And, employers may not retaliate against people who file age discrimination complaints.
Here are some examples of age-based harassment:
- Pervasive age-based comments or jokes: Calling someone a member of the “Centrum Silver crowd” or saying that their gray hair goes against the dress code
- Posting offensive age-based cartoons, drawings or symbols
- Other verbal or physical conduct biased against people age 40 or older
It is also illegal for coworkers, managers or others to harass people based on a combination of age and other protected characteristics. For example, it would be illegal to call a Native American man over 40 a “tribal elder” because it involves both race and age bias.
People of any age can be biased against age
You may have wondered if someone 40 or over can be guilty of age-based harassment or discrimination. The answer is definitely yes. Age bias is not limited to those under 40, and neither is discrimination. Both those under 40 and those 40 and older are prohibited from discriminating against people 40 and over.
That said, the ADEA does not specifically protect people under 40 from age discrimination.
Can my employer set my workload based on my age?
Generally, no. Even if assigning work or setting a workload based on age is perceived as helping the worker over 40, it is illegal to do so. It is also illegal to discriminate based on age in any other aspect of your job.
Can my employer lay me off because I’m costly?
When it comes to layoffs, it can be tempting to choose the most expensive workers to lay off. This could theoretically mean that fewer other people would be laid off. However, selecting people for layoffs based on age is illegal.
If you think you have experienced age discrimination or harassment at work, you should discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney. Your lawyer can evaluate your claim and help you make a plan of action.