Workplace Rights

Weekly (7/25/22)

Topic of the Week  What You Need to Know About Age Discrimination

Elderly and youthful employees sometimes experience age discrimination in the workplace. Ageism is stereotyping or discriminating against individuals or groups because of their age. Employers are generally not allowed to hire, fire, or promote employees, nor decide an employee’s compensation based on their age. However, it can be difficult to determine whether an employer’s actions were motivated by age discrimination, or by a genuine belief that another person can perform a particular job better. States have extensive complaint and fact-finding procedures to help employees determine when they have been victims of age discrimination and to assert their rights. 

1. Which federal law(s) cover older workers?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from age based employment discrimination. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) amended the ADEA to specifically prohibit employers from denying benefits to older employees.

While an older worker is also covered by several other workplace laws, these are the main federal laws which specifically protect older workers against discrimination based on age. Age discrimination may be accompanied by other forms of illegal discrimination as well, such as sexrace, or disability discrimination.

2. Can I be turned down for a job because I am "overqualified?"

It depends. The ADEA only prohibits discrimination based upon age. Although increased age most often means more skills and experience in the workplace, an employer is not required to hire the most qualified or experienced person for a particular position if the company believes that person's skills and experience are not the best match for the position. While some believe the explanation that a worker is "overqualified" is in essence a codeword for age discrimination, an employee would need to prove that the employer was motivated by the worker's age, rather than a valid reason other than age.

Additionally, it would be unlawful for the company to refuse to hire an experienced individual based on the assumption, solely based on the applicant's age and lacking proof, that because they have more experience and/or skills than the position requires, the older employee might become bored and leave the job after only a short time. This is an example of the kinds of ageist stereotypes that can cause employers to discriminate against older workers.

3. Can I be fired or not hired because a younger employee costs the company less?

It depends. A valid reason other than age that a company may use to justify the hiring of a younger worker is the less experienced worker has a lower salary history, and may be willing to work in the same job for less than the older worker. If the company bases the hiring decision on this reason, it is not illegal.

Thought of the Week

"People walk out of companies now with an enormous amount of intellectual property in their heads. They know things that are essential to the company’s success, and if that knowledge is not captured and transmitted to the next generation, that company is losing a tremendous chunk of capital and it’ll eventually pay a price."

–Paul Rupert, Respectful Exits

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

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    from AARP

    Did you know:

    • Nearly 80% of older workers say they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination at work
    • Workers aged 55+ make up over 36% of jobseekers compared to 23% of those aged 16-54
    • 1/4 of the workforce is 55+

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