In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which among other things prohibited discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Just three years later, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibited discrimination in the workplace on the basis of age for those aged 40 or older.
As we all know, discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin has continued despite the law. However, most employers and workers are at least somewhat aware of these protections. By contrast, age discrimination appears to be little understood even today, nearly 60 years after the passage of the ADEA. It’s also apparently widespread in American workplaces.
According to a recent AARP survey, over 40% of American workers age 40 and over say they had been discriminated against because of their age within the past three years. A similar number reported that their age is their primary concern when they are looking for work.
Other statistics show that people age 50 and older who lose their jobs are out of work three times longer than younger workers and must send out more applications for jobs.
“The last acceptable ‘ism'”
Meanwhile, many employers don’t even try to hide the fact that they are discriminating against older workers when they look for new candidates to hire. According to a survey by ZipRecruiter, 25% of employers said they would hire a 30-year-old instead of a 60-year-old even if the two applicants were equally qualified.
The situation led an AARP spokesperson to remark, sadly, that ageism as “the last acceptable ‘ism'” in the workplace.
It shouldn’t be this way. The ADEA clearly prohibits discrimination against older workers in hiring, firing, wages, promotions, benefits, training and any other terms of employment. It also prohibits workplace harassment on the basis of age for workers 40 and older. These prohibitions apply to nearly all employers with 20 or more employees.
Those who believe they have been subjected to illegal age discrimination in the workplace can file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asking the EEOC to take action, but their options don’t end there. Depending on the circumstances, they may be able to sue the employer for their damages.