What Is Age Discrimination?


Though not the problem it used to be, age discrimination still takes place in the business world. Any business, regardless of size, should know what is meant by age discrimination and how it affects the workplace as well as the business world. A little bit of knowledge and friendly advice can help your business treat employees equally, regardless of age.


In 1967, the United States Congress passed a law banning age discrimination and making it a crime to "discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training." Though the language is ambiguous, the application of these laws apply only to those people over 40 years of age.

Practical Application

There are some jobs that are often considered impossible to hire older applicants for. For example, 80-year-old applicants to the police academy or fire department will probably not be taken seriously, nor will 50-year-old applicants to the armed forces. Outside of the extreme examples stated above, however, businesses must present opportunities for promotion or special privileges to all employees who qualify. Rarely does a person's age affect their ability to work in an office setting, to manage a group of people or even to perform routine tasks such as receiving visitors or answering the phones.

Non-Employee Discrimination

Federal laws are often supplemented by state laws and cover applications for nonemployee positions, such as housing. Under the Equal Opportunity Housing Act, landlords are not allowed to exclude elderly tenants from their application process. Similarly, an insurance company can not deny coverage to a person depending solely upon his age.


The most common form of age discrimination comes in the termination of an older employee, especially one that stands to receive a retirement benefit package (pension). If the employer is unable to produce hard evidence of incompetence in the employee and/or hires a younger person (someone under 40 years) for the position, the business may be exposing itself to a lawsuit. Government agencies, also, are sometimes guilty of such discrimination in regards to termination. This is usually a mistake that agencies make in times of economic hardship as a measure to bypass relatively generous retirement benefits.


It is possible for an employee to waive her rights to sue a company under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) as a part of a termination settlement or severance agreement package. The signing of this waiver protects the company in case the terminated employee changes his mind about the severance package and decides to sue after all. No employee can be made to waive his ADEA rights while still employed or as part of an employment agreement, and attempts to do so are in direct violation of federal law.

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