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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against individuals who are 40 or older. In order to be protected by the ADEA, the employer must regularly employ at least 20 employees. While some states extend protection against age discrimination to younger workers, states are not required to protect workers under 40 from age discrimination. Moreover, the ADEA does not protect younger employees against preferential treatment to older employees. The ADEA is a federal law and is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Age discrimination occurs when an employee or applicant is treated less favorably due to his or her age. Further, age discrimination can occur during any aspect of employment. This may include hiring or firing an individual, or the decision to promote or offer an increased salary. Thus, the ADEA protects both current employees and job applicants. Age discrimination is not solely limited to the decision to hire or fire someone based on age. If an employer or supervisor has made age-related remarks or insinuations, there may be a potential claim for age discrimination.
How Does the ADEA Protect Me?
While the ADEA applies to employers with at least 20 employees, many states have implemented laws pertaining to employers with less than 20 employees. Each state is different so it is necessary to check the minimum number of employees needed to file an age discrimination claim. Additionally, each state provides a period of time in which an individual must file a complaint. For example, in New York, a discrimination claim must be filed within three (3) years from the date of the alleged discrimination.
The ADEA does not protect all older workers from age discrimination, and contains several exceptions. For example, executives may be required to retire at age 65 if the pension benefits received exceed $44,000. Further, certain federal law enforcement employees and tenured faculty at universities may be excluded from protection. There are also several jobs where age may be considered an essential part of performing the job. This is typically the case when an actor is being sought for a certain age-related role.
Employers are protected under the ADEA from claims of age discrimination if the employment decision was valid. Poor job performance is considered a valid, non-age-related reason to fire an employee. Moreover, an employer is permitted to make layoffs if the company is in financial trouble. However, if the majority of workers laid off are 40 or older, there may be a basis for an age discrimination claim. Such a claim would be strengthened if the older workers were replaced with individuals under the age of 40.
Protect Your Benefits
One of the main reasons an older worker may be targeted is to stop pension benefits from vesting. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) of 1990 makes it illegal for employers to layoff older employees because the benefits were too expensive. Additionally, an employer may not refuse to pay health insurance to workers over 55 solely on the basis that the premiums are too costly.
While it is difficult to prove age discrimination, an employee may be successful if there has been an intentional action taken on the basis of the employee’s age. To prevail, an employee must show age was the sole factor for the discrimination employed. If there is evidence of age discrimination, an employee may be entitled to recover back pay, attorneys’ fees and court costs. If the age discrimination occurs to an applicant, the applicant’s remedy may be to be hired by the company.
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