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Age Discrimination: What Employers Need to Know

The American labor market has passed a barely noticed statistical landmark: the median age of working Americans—half the working population—is 40 or olde , according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The significance of this benchmark for employers is that about half of America’s private sector workforce is now covered by the protections of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

At a time when the workforce is both graying and growing more slowly than in the past, savvy employers view this as a wake-up call and an inspiration to redouble their efforts to retain and attract the capable, qualified work- ers they need for business success in the com- ing decades.

In simple English, age discrimination in employment means setting arbitrary age limits for hiring, promotion, discharge, compensa- tion, working conditions and benefits, regard- less of an individual’s actual or potential for job performance. It also means establishing and implementing practices and policies that work to the disadvantage of older employees or potential employees.

Some age discrimination is willful, inten- tional, and blatantly unfair. It reflects reliance

on rank bias or unfounded stereotypes about older workers. Other unlawful age discrimina- tion is less blatant but equally harmful to older workers. Although the line between what’s legal and what’s not is sometimes fuzzy, prudent employers institute personnel practices that value the skills and contribu- tions of individual employees, and do not rely on assumptions about what older workers “can” or “cannot” do.

AARP has prepared this publication to provide employers with an understanding of age discrimination laws, and to encourage employers to promote age equity and thus, to prevent age discrimination disputes from arising. AARP hopes not only to assist employ- ers to comply with the law but also to foster practices and policies that will help employers maintain a talented workforce and generate business productivity that are so crucial to the future of our economy, our society, and our country. -


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