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As we age, we accumulate experience that can make us even more valuable at work. But that is not how many employers see it. It's not unusual for older workers to encounter age discrimination that makes it harder to get hired, promoted and treated fairly on the job.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA's protections apply to both employees and job applicants. Under the ADEA, employment discrimination based on age—in hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, compensation, benefits, job assignments, training and more—is unlawful. It's also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing age discrimination practices or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying or participating in an ADEA case.

The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state, local and federal government, private employers and employment agencies.

ADEA protections include apprenticeship programs, job notices and advertisements, pre-employment inquiries and benefits.  

It is generally unlawful for apprenticeship programs to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s age, subject to certain specific exceptions under the ADEA and specific U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) exemptions.

The ADEA generally makes it unlawful to include age preferences, limitations or specifications in job notices or announcements, limited by certain circumstances.

While the ADEA does not specifically prohibit an employer from asking an applicant’s age or date of birth, requests for age information will be closely scrutinized to make sure the inquiry is made for a lawful purpose.  

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) amended the ADEA to specifically prohibit employers from denying benefits to older employees. 

If you think you've been discriminated against, write down a detailed account of the events, including date, time, place, comments and witnesses. Inform the personnel manager of your complaint. For unionized workers, your union steward can help you write up a complaint and present it to management.

You may file a complaint with the EEOC, a federal agency that works to protect you from discrimination based on age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion or disability, by calling 800-669-4000 for more information (800-669-6820 for the hearing impaired). Federal employees have 45 days to contact an EEO counselor.  All charges must include:

  • Your name, address and telephone number.
  • Your job title.
  • A brief description of the problem.
  • When the incident(s) occurred.
  • The type of discrimination you encountered.

For more information, visit the EEOC question-and-answer page about discrimination.

Many states and cities also have fair employment practices agencies. In most states, a state or local agency investigates discrimination cases first and tries to work them out on the local level.

For more facts about age discrimination, how to fight it and what to do if you think you are a victim, check these sites:

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