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Age Discrimination Laws

Both federal and state laws prohibit age discrimination in employment. Here’s how they work.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) Employees and job applicants who are 40 years or older are protected from age discrimination by the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Who is Protected: The ADEA, passed in 1967, makes it illegal for employers, employment agencies, and the federal government to discriminate against employees and job applicants who are 40 or older and work for an employer with at least 20 employees, including state and local governments. It also prohibits age discrimination by labor organi- zations, such as unions, that have at least 25 members.

Basic Protections: ADEA makes the following practices unlawful.

Employers with 20 or more employees may not:

  • Discriminate against workers age 40 and older in hiring, firing, compensation, bene- fits, terms, conditions or any other aspect of employment, because of their age;

  • Retaliate against an individual who complains about age discrimination or helps the government investigate an age discrimination charge; or

  • Implement age-neutral policies that have a significant disproportionate impact on older workers that is not justified by the reasonable objectives of the employer and reasonable steps by the employer to carry out such purposes.

Employment agencies serving an employer covered by the ADEA may not refuse to refer or refrain from referring workers age 40 and older.

The federal government must ensure that all personnel actions affecting federal employees and job applicants are free of age discrimination.

Labor organizations, such as unions, with 25 or more members, may not:

  • Discriminate against individuals age 40 and older in membership activities;

  • Cause or attempt to cause an employer to discriminate against any individual based on age; or


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