As an employer, you know that it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of age (specifically, against those who are 40 and older). However, you may not know that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) dates back to 1967.
Even back then, Congress recognized, in the words of the law, that “in the face of rising productivity and affluence, older workers find themselves disadvantaged in their efforts to retain employment, and especially to regain employment when displaced from jobs.” The law noted that “arbitrary age limits” are not just bad for employees but for commerce.
What aspects of employment does the ADEA cover?
The ADEA protects workers 40 and over in businesses with at least 20 employees from discrimination in virtually every aspect of work. This includes:
- Performance reviews
- Layoffs and firing
It also protects them against retaliation if they complain about age discrimination.
The ADEA also applies to employee benefit programs. For example, you can’t charge an employee more for health, disability or life insurance simply because of their age on the false assumption that they will be more likely to use those benefits. Plenty of young workers become ill or disabled.
A harassment-free workplace is key
Even if your company has always been in compliance with ADEA regulations, it’s possible that an employee might believe they’ve been discriminated against based on their age. Thorough documentation is usually your friend. If you had reason to fire a person, for example, that reason and any history of poor performance should be clearly documented.
Having a workplace that’s free of harassment is also important. Even employees who understand they should never mock a person’s race, sexual orientation or disability might consider an “old coot” joke perfectly harmless. It’s not. It’s understandable that someone might feel their age is an issue if these jokes and remarks are allowed.
If you need help ensuring that your workplace is free of age discrimination or if you’re facing allegations, an experienced attorney can help you.