Age Discrimination Fact Sheet

What you need to know about the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Age discrimination in the workplace persists as a serious and pervasive problem. Charges of age discrimination spiked during the Great Recession. It’s not easy to win if you file a complaint, but there are ways to bolster your case. Read on to learn about the law that protects you and what you can do if you or someone you know becomes a victim of age discrimination.

The Law

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that protects workers and job applicants age 40 and over from age-based discrimination in all aspects of employment. The ADEA does not apply to elected officials, independent contractors or military personnel. The law does apply to:

  • Employers with at least 20 employees
  • Employment agencies
  • The federal government
  • State and local government (though remedies are often limited)
  • Labor organizations with at least 25 members

In addition, every state has a law that prohibits age discrimination in employment. Most state laws apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees, and often provide stronger protection for older workers than federal law.

The time limits for filing complaints and the procedures for resolving them differ from state to state and from the federal ADEA. The Workplace Fairness website provides information on each state’s discrimination law.

How the ADEA Protects You

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination in decisions about hiring, firing, layoffs, pay, benefits, promotions, demotions, performance reviews or any other condition of employment.

Under the ADEA, employers can’t:

  • Mention age or say that a certain age is preferred in job ads and recruiting materials; it is questionable but not automatically illegal to ask for date of birth or graduation on a job application
  • Set age limits for training programs
  • Retaliate against you if you file charges of age discrimination or help the government investigate charges
  • Force you to retire at a certain age (except for a few narrow exceptions)

The law also prohibits policies and practices that have a “disparate impact” on older workers. These are policies that appear to be age-neutral but fall more harshly on older workers. An example is a school district that announces it won’t hire teachers with more than 20 years of experience. Policies or practices that have a disproportionately adverse impact on older workers are unlawful unless the employer can prove they are based on a reasonable factor other than age.

Employee Benefit Protections

Under the ADEA, you can’t be denied the opportunity to participate in your employer’s benefit plans because of your age. Employers also can’t reduce benefits based on age, unless the cost of providing the benefit increases with age. In these instances, the employer must incur the same cost for providing the benefits to older workers as it does for younger workers in order to comply with the ADEA.

For example, the cost of providing life insurance increases with age. An employer does not violate the ADEA if it spends the same amount to buy life insurance for younger and older workers, even though the younger workers receive greater coverage for the same premium.

Pursuing a Claim

You have the right to pursue a claim if you feel you are a victim of age discrimination. Judging older workers on the basis of age rather than abilities is wrong, and age discrimination can have devastating effects on the financial security of workers at the time and into retirement. It’s a hard case to bring and a hard one to win, though. It can also be emotionally and financially draining, and you may never get your day in court. Talk with your family, and take the uphill nature of the battle into account.

Before you file a complaint, consider negotiating with your employer first or using your company’s established grievance system. If your case is strong, you may be able to persuade your employer to settle with you. Research shows employers are inclined to settle out of court in cases where employees have solid evidence of age bias.

If you decide to move forward, it’s important to have a strong case. Make sure to document remarks by your managers and others that you perceive as discriminatory. Keep emails and any other documentation that helps your case.

Contact Phillip A. Austin with any age discrimination questions you have by calling (480) 644-0506 or email

Originally published on AARP