Addressing Age Discrimination in the Workplace: Laws, Challenges, and Solutions

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Addressing Age Discrimination in the Workplace: Laws, Challenges, and Solutions

Here’s an alarming fact – 78% of workers aged 50 or older have experienced or witnessed some level of age discrimination in the workplace or hiring process.

  • 93% believe age discrimination is common.
  • 53% were asked their age during the application process or in an interview.
  • 47% were asked when they graduated high school or college.
  • 17% have received negative age-related comments at work.
  • 15% report not being hired due to their age.
  • 13% were not given a promotion due to their age.

It’s not just adults past retirement age who are discriminated against. Forty-eight percent of the complaints were filed by people between the ages of 55 and 64, and 37% were between the ages of 40 and 54. 

What Is Age Discrimination? 

Age discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently because of their age. Within the workplace, it’s illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a person due to their age, to use an employee’s age to restrict them from job promotions or training opportunities, or to pay an older worker less than younger workers. Retaliation is also illegal.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) age discrimination laws protect people aged 40 or older. Some states have laws in place to protect younger workers. California laws follow the 40 or older guidelines.

The Impact of Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Age discrimination is detrimental. If an older adult needs the income and loses their job due to their age, it can cause financial hardship. Age discrimination takes away job opportunities from people who are still very willing and capable of working. It can lead to emotional distress if an aged applicant believes they were a perfect fit for a position and are denied the chance due to their age.

Age discrimination can make an older adult feel down and even trigger depression. It also makes a company look bad if news of a company’s or organization’s discriminatory behavior reaches the media.

There Are Four Types of Discrimination

There are four types of age discrimination:

  • Direct: The age discrimination occurs to your face
  • Indirect: Age discrimination is based on new or existing restrictive policies.
  • Harassment: You’re picked on or ridiculed due to your age.
  • Retaliation: You’re treated worse or differently because you spoke up and complained about the harassment you were experiencing.

Here are some real age discrimination lawsuits that further explain the types of discrimination.


Three staff members in an Iowa school district had excellent records with the school, but all three were released from their jobs after turning 55. They filed age discrimination lawsuits and agreed to settlements of almost $1.2 million.


After the CEO made a comment about all the sales team being older workers, the hiring team implemented a new program. All hiring managers at the pharmaceutical company made it a policy to ignore applications from younger adults and ignore those from older adults. A complaint was filed with the EEOC.


A car dealership’s owner continually made comments about an employee having “old-timer’s disease” and threatened to fire the older worker when she underwent heart surgery. The only way to avoid being fired was to retire. The fact that the employee was productive and excelling at work didn’t matter.


An IT staffing agency assured a worker he would be referred for an IT support position. When he was asked to provide the dates he graduated school, he refused citing age discrimination laws. Because of his refusal, the company retaliated by refusing to refer him. He filed a complaint with the EEOC, who agreed and required the staffing agency to implement anti-discrimination measures and train all staff once the measures are established.

Steps to Take if You’re the Victim of or Witness Age Discrimination

If you believe you are the victim of age discrimination, don’t let the company get away with it. You should stand up and protect your rights. You can also witness age discrimination and report it. This keeps workplaces from continuing to discriminate against older workers, even if the older workers are hesitant to speak up. You can advocate for an older worker’s right to fair treatment in the workplace.

  1. Read the Employee Handbook to See How to File a Complaint

Start by reading your employee handbook to see who you report the situation to. It might be your human resources department, but a union worker may need to go to the union steward. If you’re supposed to report the situation to a supervisor or manager who was responsible for the comment or discriminatory behavior, you can file a complaint with the EEOC.

Make sure your employer is aware of any age discrimination coming from fellow employees, customers, clients, or contractors. If they’re not aware of it, they cannot take steps to stop it. 

Did you apply for a job or promotion and were turned down because of your age? Report that situation to the EEOC, too. If you wanted to apply for a job, but the wording made it clear that you were too old or somehow restricted you due to your age, that’s also illegal and should be reported. For example, you read a job ad that specifically says something like “Hiring Gen Z for an exciting sales job…” If you’re qualified for the role, your age shouldn’t matter.

  1. Gather Evidence

You do need to gather as much evidence as you can. Age discrimination can be very hard to prove, and that often leads to people feeling discouraged. Print out copies of messages or emails you received. Take screenshots and store them in a password-protected file, SD card, or personal thumb drive. If there was a discriminatory job posting, keep a copy of it. 

  1. Reach the EEOC Laws

Be aware of your rights. Spend some time reading the EEOC’s rules on age discrimination. Make sure you understand your rights. If you aren’t certain, talk to an expert on age discrimination in the workplace. Employment law attorneys provide you with the insight you need. 

Shegerian Conniff offers free consultations and can help you understand your rights. If our lawyers believe you have a case, we typically offer contingency fee arrangements. This means you do not have to pay us upfront, we take the fee from the settlement or court award. Talk to our attorneys to see if we can help you or refer you to an attorney who can.

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