What laws are there to protect employees against age discrimination?
UPDATED: October 6, 2011
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Age discrimination involves treating a person or persons differently on the basis of age. In many instances, this is a form of prohibited discrimination as age should not affect the hiring or firing of an employee, or the terms or conditions of a job.
There are federal age discrimination laws in place to protect older employees. These regulations are found in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). However, they only protect those who are over the age of 40, and only protect those who work for a company that employs 20 or more people. Many states provide a broader array of protections against age discrimination, so if you are not covered by the federal ADEA against unlawful discrimination based on your age, you should consult with a lawyer about your own state's laws.
When you are protected under either federal or state discrimination laws, the rules apply only to discrimination based strictly on age. It is generally permissible for discrimination to occur based on seniority. But these senority-based systems may still impact workers in other ways that are in-fact based on age alone. It is also considered permissible to discriminate based on health condition. For example, an employer could not charge a given group of employees more money for insurance solely based on the fact that they were older employees, however, if an employee had a specific health condition, that person could be charged more on the basis of that health condition.
Age discrimination laws also generally prevent companies from forcing older employees to retire. However, both this and any other potentially discriminatory situation can be justified and permitted if the employer can prove that there was a bona fide occupational reason for their actions. For example, if being younger than a certain age was an essential requirement to perform the job effectively, then age discrimination would be permitted in that particular instance.
If you have any further questions regarding age discrimination laws in the workplace, contact an employment attorney.