People tend to judge us by our age. It’s just part of life. Many people may think people are too young or too old to do something. The same goes for employers. Even though more and more seniors are continuing to work and even returning to the workplace after retirement, there are many employers who frown upon older workers. They want a youthful workforce.
This is called age discrimination, and it works both ways. Young people may experience age discrimination by being passed over for jobs or being paid poor wages just because they are young and inexperienced. On the other hand, older people may be denied jobs because an employer believes they are too old.
However, only discrimination against older people is covered under federal law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it illegal to discriminate against workers who are age 40 or older. Those under the age of 40 are not protected. It is not illegal for an employer to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both are over the age of 40. Discrimination can occur when the victim and the offender are both over the age of 40.
The ADEA prohibits age discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, pay, benefits, job assignments, training, promotions, layoff, firing, and all other conditions of employment. The law applies to employers that have at least 20 employees, including public and private companies and all government agencies (federal, state, and local governments).
ADEA protections include the following:
- Apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s age. Age limitations are valid only if the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) grants an exemption.
- Job ads. Under the ADEA, it is illegal to include age limits or preferences, limitations, or specifications in job ads. An age limit is only in rare circumstances, such as where age is shown to be a “bona fide occupational qualification” that is necessary to the normal operation of the business.
- Pre-employment inquiries. The ADEA does not specifically prohibit an employer from asking a job applicant for their age or date of birth. However, questions involving one’s age often deter older workers from applying for employment, so employers need to ensure that requests for age information are done solely for legal purposes.
- Benefits. Employers are prohibited from denying benefits to older employees. While it is known that the cost of providing benefits to older workers is greater than the cost of providing those same benefits to younger workers, the government does not want employers to refrain from hiring older workers based on these extra costs. An employer, therefore, is allowed to reduce benefits based on age, so long as the costs for younger workers vs. older workers are roughly the same.
Examples of Age Discrimination and Harassment
It is unlawful to harass a person because of their age. While the law does not prohibit teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents, it does make it illegal for a supervisor, co-worker, client, or customer to make pervasive remarks about a person’s age that are so offensive or derogatory in nature that they create a hostile work environment.
Here are some examples of age discrimination in the workplace:
- Disproportionately hiring younger employees. Job candidates should be assessed based on their skills, experience, and qualifications—not their age. When a company hires only young workers (under age 30, for example), then that may be considered evidence of possible age-based discrimination. Employers will not usually come and say that a candidate was rejected because of their age. Instead, they may use terms such as “overqualified.” That is typically a sign that an employer is engaging in discriminatory practices.
- Little opportunity for advancement for older workers. When companies do hire older workers, they do not always offer them any real opportunities for advancement. In fact, getting a promotion in a modern workplace is a real challenge for many workers over the age of 40. This is concerning, considering that older workers should be judged on their qualifications, not their age.
- Targeting older workers in staff reductions. Age cannot be used as a factor when there is a need to lay off or reduce staff. When restructuring the workforce, it should be done fairly, without solely targeting workers who are above a certain age. However, companies often target those who are paid the most (in wages and benefits), and that often means older workers get the short end of the stick.
- Isolation of older employees. Company culture is an important workplace benefit. When older workers feel unwelcome at the workplace, it could impact their performance. Plus, they are getting denied an opportunity to network. If older employees feel as though they don’t belong and feel ostracized in comparison to their younger co-workers, then there could be discrimination at play. However, proving this can be complicated, so discuss this situation with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer.
- Workplace harassment. Workplace harassment can occur in many ways. If an employer, supervisor, or co-worker makes an older employee feel unwelcome through jokes, taunts, or other harassment based on their age, it could be considered a hostile work environment. Employers need to be aware that hurtful comments are not “just jokes.” That is not a valid excuse under the law and harassment can be very harmful, especially if an older worker is forced to quit their position.
- Unfair disciplinary action. When an employee is falsely accused of poor performance or misconduct, it is likely because some sort of discrimination—age or otherwise—is involved.
Contact Our Chicago Age Discrimination Lawyer
Older workers should not face discrimination simply because of their age. Those over the age of 40 have many experiences and skills that benefit many companies and they should not be penalized for this.
If you have been turned down for a job or faced other employment issues due to your age, seek legal help from North Suburban Legal Service, LLC. Our Chicago age discrimination lawyers can assess your age discrimination case and help you obtain financial remedies. Schedule a consultation today by calling (312) 909-6089.
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