Age Discrimination

Ageism is the act of stereotyping or discriminating against an individual or group of people based on age. Unfortunately, older adults encounter ageism on a regular basis. This can take the form of clichés in advertising to snide comments made by family, friends, or the general public.

It is virtually impossible to eliminate age discrimination in society. However, one place where it is illegal is the workplace. While the majority of older adults (about two-thirds) retire by the age of 66, millions plan to keep working.

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 about 40 percent of people ages 55 and older were working or actively looking for work. That statistic is known as the labor force participation rate. And it is expected to increase fastest for the oldest segments of the population (people ages 65 to 75 and older) through 2024. In contrast, participation rates for most other age groups in the labor force will not change much for the same time period.

It is a myth that older workers are unable to adapt to changes in technology or offer fresh, innovative ideas. More than likely, older generations respond well to changes in work demands and are open and willing to learn new technology-based skills.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The federal government has a law in place which safeguards older Americans from experiencing age discrimination in the workplace. The ADEA of 1967 protects applicants and employees who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire any person with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment based on an individual’s age.

In addition, an employer cannot limit, segregate, or classify an employee’s work opportunities based on age. Furthermore, an employee’s wage may not be reduced based on age. Compliance depends on different factors including number of employees and type of employer (private business, government, or union). To read the entire law refer to:


Signs of Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of age (40 or older) is age discrimination. Following are some examples:

  • Offensive remarks. Occasional remarks or good-natured teasing about someone’s age is not illegal in the work place. However, ADEA does prohibit remarks which become frequent or so severe that the comments create a hostile or offensive work environment or result in being fired or demoted. Document the time, date, and place of comments made about age. Record the names of any co-workers who also heard the comments.
  • Not receiving promotions/assignment of duties. It is illegal for an employer to make decisions about job assignments and promotions based on an employee’s age if 40 or older. If you notice promotions, better shifts, or plum assignments going to younger colleagues, you may be the victim of age discrimination. One method employers may use to encourage an older worker to quit is to reassign an older worker a job beneath his/her skill level or to a less preferred time shift or location.
  • Hirings and layoffs. If you start to notice older employees going through layoffs (or being fired) while younger individuals are being hired this could signal age discrimination. Younger workers are often preferred by employers because they can be paid a lower wage.


File a Complaint

If you are 40 years or older and believe you are experiencing age discrimination in the workplace then you have 180 calendar days in which to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The deadline is extended to 300 days if there is a state law prohibiting age discrimination and a state agency or authority enforcing the law. The countdown to file a complaint starts from the date of the most recent example of discrimination or harassment. If discrimination is ongoing, it is a good idea to document each event to show a history. However, EEOC will investigate the most recent charge.

A charge of discrimination is a signed statement asserting that an organization engaged in age discrimination. It requests EEOC to take action to remedy the situation. There are a number of ways in which to file a charge:



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