Navigating Age Discrimination: Understanding Your Legal Protections

Age discrimination in the workplace is not just a matter of unfair perception; it’s a legal issue with state and federal statutes in place to protect the workforce. Our societal biases against older individuals must not influence employment actions, and certain laws serve as a shield for employees against such unlawful bias based on age.

Unraveling the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The primary bulwark against age-based discrimination in the workplace emanates from the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), codified at 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634. The ADEA safeguards workers aged 40 and above from discrimination that may occur throughout the employment lifecycle – from job advertisements and interviews, all the way to termination.

All private employers with at least 20 employees, along with local, state (with certain limitations on litigation), and federal government employers, must adhere to the ADEA’s requirements. Notably, the ADEA targets both explicit discriminatory practices and those seemingly fair policies that may disproportionately harm older workers, following the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Smith v. City of Jackson, Mississippi, 125 S.Ct. 1536 (2005).

Moreover, the ADEA ensures not only that workers over 40 are not disadvantaged in favor of younger colleagues but also that employers do not show preference among older workers themselves; for instance, employers must not favor a 43-year-old candidate over one who is 53 simply due to age.

Against the Backdrop of Retirement and Benefits: The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act

The enactment of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), an amendment to the ADEA found in 29 U.S.C. § 623 and subsequent sections, further solidifies the position that age should not influence decisions pertaining to employee benefits or retirement. This law, protecting those over the age of 40, prohibits employers from diminishing benefits such as health or life insurance based on an employee’s age, as well as ensuring that pensions accrue regardless of whether an employee chooses to retire later than usual.

Importantly, the OWBPA stipulates that employers cannot coerce employees into choosing early retirement. Legal retirement offers must present employees with a meaningful option between maintaining the status quo or accepting an advantageous retirement deal, without any detriment.

Complementing Federal Principles: State Antidiscrimination Statutes

To complement federal regulation, various state antidiscrimination statutes also aim to eradicate workplace age discrimination. Some state laws act in concurrence with federal laws, targeting the protection of individuals over 40, while others adopt a more expansive scope to shield workers of any age.

These state laws frequently apply to smaller employers not covered under federal statutes, thus broadening the spectrum of workplace protection.

For further information on age discrimination, including details on the ADEA, the OWBPA, and regulations specific to your state – as well as guidance on filing a complaint – we invite you to reach out to your regional Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office (with details available at or to contact your state fair employment office.

Please remember that these articles are intended for educational purposes and do not substitute for legal counsel. With the fluid nature of law, Merrick Law Firm LLC invites you to consult with an attorney who can provide current legal advice tailored to your situation.

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