The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees age 40 or over in the terms and conditions of employment. The ADEA includes provisions protecting you from any adverse employment action taken against you as a result of your age. A few examples might include:
- In a company downsizing, you and other older employees are laid off in disproportionate numbers, while younger, less experienced workers remain in their jobs.
- Your boss hired a younger, less qualified employee rather than giving you a promotion, explaining that he wanted to put a "fresh face" in the position.
- Prior to terminating you, your supervisor made several cracks about your age, or made comments encouraging your retirement like, "I bet you wish you could spend more time with your grandkids."
- A year or two before you come into your full pension benefits, your supervisor suddenly begins finding fault with your performance and puts you on a Performance Improvement Plan with unattainable goals. Other employees are not expected to meet the same quotas.
The ADEA also stipulates that employers cannot terminate older employees on the grounds that providing benefits for them is too costly. Rather, the employer must follow the "equal benefits or equal cost" rule, whereby they either provide equal benefits for all employees or pay the same benefit costs for older and younger workers. Thus the law allows companies to reduce benefits based on age only if the cost of providing reduced benefits to older employees is equal to the cost of providing benefits to younger employees.
The ADEA applies to employers that have twenty or more employees. Many states have laws which expand age discrimination protections to cover smaller employers. Please see our chart of Information by State for more detailed information.
The ADEA contains several exceptions in terms of the workers it covers. Professionals in "high policy-making positions" may be required to retire at age 65, provided that they would receive pension benefits of at least $44,000 per year. Some special exceptions also apply to fire and police department employees, tenured professors, and some other federal employees. In limited circumstances, age may be a "bona fide occupational qualification" (a BFOQ) - that is, a legitimate condition of employment. For example, a company hiring an actor to play the role of a teenager would have a BFOQ for specifying an age range in the job listing.
It is a fairly common practice for a company to offer older employees early retirement in order to save money or to avoid involuntary layoffs. Offering voluntary early retirement to employees does not violate the ADEA; however, forcing employees into retirement does.
If you believe that you were the victim of age discrimination, it is important to contact a knowledgeable employment attorney as soon as possible, as there may be serious time limit issues to your case. The attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP are committed advocates of employee rights with years of experience handling age discrimination claims. Contact us to discuss the details of your case.