Age Discrimination

Age discrimination happens whenever an employer treats an employee or job applicant less fairly due to age. Federal laws protect people 40 and older from age discrimination in the workplace and people of all ages in programs receiving federal funds. State laws may also prohibit age discrimination.

Terry Turner, writer and researcher for RetireGuide
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APA Turner, T. (2022, July 26). Age Discrimination. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/age-discrimination/

MLA Turner, Terry. "Age Discrimination." RetireGuide.com, 26 Jul 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/age-discrimination/.

Chicago Turner, Terry. "Age Discrimination." RetireGuide.com. Last modified July 26, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/age-discrimination/.

What Is Age Discrimination?

Under federal law, age discrimination is the act of treating a job applicant or an employee less favorably because of their age.

Age discrimination is different from ageism, but they are related. Ageism is a broader type of discrimination against people based on their age — a form of prejudice akin to racism or sexism — that may extend beyond a workplace setting. Ageism may also be a root cause of age discrimination.

There are two major federal laws against age discrimination. One law protects workers age 40 and older in the workplace. A second law protects people of all ages in programs or activities that receive federal funding. State laws may go further to address age discrimination.

Signs of Age Discrimination

There are several signs of age discrimination to watch for as you age in the workplace. These signs can provide an early warning that an employer may be illegally discriminating against older workers.

Examples of Age Discrimination in the Workplace
Age-Related Remarks
These can include comments on a person’s age, up to and including outright harassment. Harassment can include making fun of an older worker or making their work life so miserable that they quit — so the employer doesn’t have to fire them.
Ageist Culture
Assuming older workers can’t handle technology or isolating them from out-of-office activities such as happy hours can be a sign of a workplace culture that promotes age discrimination.
Getting Passed Over
Isolating individuals from meetings, leaving them out of decisions or overlooking them for new or challenging assignments can all be signs of age discrimination. This also includes being turned down for raises and promotions.
Getting Pushed Out
If an employer is offering buyouts to older employees — while hiring younger workers — this may be a sign that the company is committing age discrimination. Other similar signs are encouraging or even forcing an older worker to retire, seeing performance reviews suddenly plunge or suddenly eliminating an older worker’s position.

Effects of Age Discrimination and Ageism

The effects of age discrimination and ageism in general can cause emotional and economic harm to the individuals who are discriminated against. Age discrimination can also cause serious economic damage to society at large.

The World Health Organization estimates ageism is responsible for 6.3 million cases of depression globally.

Effects of Ageism on Individuals
  • Decreased quality of life
  • Decreased financial security
  • Increased social isolation and loneliness
  • Poorer mental health
  • Poorer physical health
  • Premature death

People who faced age discrimination lost as much as $545 billion in wages and salaries in 2018, according to a study by AARP and The Economist. The study found that age discrimination also cost the U.S. economy $850 billion that year.

Where Can Age Discrimination Happen?

Age discrimination may happen in a variety of places. Though most occurrences are in the workplace, federal laws specifically protect against different types of age discrimination in specific areas.

Where Age Discrimination May Occur
  • Education programs
  • Food stamps
  • Health care services
  • Housing
  • Rehabilitation programs
  • Welfare
  • Workplace

What Is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 specifically applies to age discrimination in the workplace.

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against anyone who is 40 or older , but some state laws may extend this protection to younger workers. It is not illegal for an employer to favor an older worker over a younger worker — even if both are 40 or older.

Key Elements of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Only applies to discrimination against workers age 40 and older
  • Prohibits age discrimination in all aspects of employment — including hiring, firing, benefits, job assignments, layoffs, pay, promotions and training
  • Forbids harassment of anyone because of their age by an employer, supervisor, co-worker, client and/or customer of the employer
  • Applies to employers with 20 or more employees
  • Allows a victim 180 days after an act of age discrimination to file a charge (states may allow longer periods of time)

Amendments to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The ADEA has been amended twice since it became law.

The first time was in 1986 — eliminating the original upper age limit of 70 on people protected against age discrimination. There is no longer any upper age limit, and all people 40 and older are protected.

The second time was in 1991. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides special protections for people who believe they are victims of age discrimination or other types of discrimination prohibited by federal laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

What Is the Age Discrimination Act of 1975?

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 is often confused with the ADEA, but they are different laws affecting different areas of age discrimination. It is modeled in part on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Age Discrimination Act doesn’t limit protections to older workers, but it protects against discrimination of all ages in any program that receives any money from the federal government.

This means its protections can extend to students and people seeking health care, housing loans or federal assistance.

But there are some exemptions that the Age Discrimination Act still allows.

Exceptions to the Age Discrimination Act of 1975
  • If the age distinction is required for the normal operation or objective of the program or activity
  • If there are reasonable factors other than age that have a substantial effect on the program or activities objectives

What If You Experience Age Discrimination?

If you believe you have experienced age discrimination, you have just 180 days to report it to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Report Age Discrimination
Call the EEOC at 800-669-4000 or visit the EEOC website to file a charge of discrimination. The EEOC website also provides help in filing a state Fair Employment Practices Agencies with which you may also file a discrimination complaint.
Source: EEOC

Some states may allow you to wait as long as 300 days to file a complaint, but it’s wise to file a complaint as soon as possible after an incident.

Federal employees have a different system for filing complaints. They have just 45 days to contact an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor.

Last Modified: July 26, 2022

8 Cited Research Articles

  1. U.S. Department of Education. (2022, February 16). Age Discrimination: Overview of the Law. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/guid/ocr/ageoverview.html
  2. Villines, Z. (2021, November 3). What is ageism, and how does it affect health? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/ageism
  3. Nguyen, J. (2021, June 3). How does age discrimination affect the economy? Retrieved from https://www.marketplace.org/2021/06/03/how-does-age-discrimination-affect-the-economy/
  4. AARP. (2020). The Economic Impact of Age Discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2020/impact-of-age-discrimination.doi.10.26419-2Fint.00042.003.pdf
  5. Mayfair, A. (n.d.). The Consequences of Age Discrimination at Work. Retrieved from https://smallbusiness.chron.com/consequences-age-discrimination-work-15806.html
  6. U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Age Discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/discrimination/agedisc
  7. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Age Discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/age-discrimination
  8. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/age-discrimination-employment-act-1967#