Even if you are an at-will employee, you cannot be fired for certain reasons including age. Even if you weren’t fired, you cannot be discriminated against in other ways by your employer for your age if you are 40 years old or older.
What is discrimination?
- Discrimination means treating an employee unfavorably in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, or any other term or condition of employment.
Is every kind of discrimination illegal?
- It may be surprising, but not all discrimination is illegal. For example, it is not illegal to discriminate against hiring someone because they do not have the required educational credentials or years of experience in the field. It is also not illegal to layoff someone based strictly on lowest seniority or job performance.
- However, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on that person’s age if that person is 40 years old or older. Note, however, that it is permissible for an employer to favor an older employee over a younger one, even if the younger one is age 40 or older.
- Beware that some employers will give a legal reason for discrimination to hide the true illegal one. This is known as a “pretext.”
What are the illegal employment practices prohibited by discrimination based on age?
- Harassment. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the employee being fired or demoted).
- Examples of harassment based on age.
- Derogatory remarks about older people in general.
- Comments suggesting that an employee should be getting ready to retire.
- Remarks such as “you’ve had a good run,” “you’re not as sharp as you once were,” “we need young blood in this company,” or “we need to get rid of the dead wood.”
- Who is the harasser? The harasser can be the employee’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a contractor, client, or customer. The harasser can also be anyone of any age—even older than the harassed employee.
- Examples of harassment based on age.
- Lay-offs. Employers may not target mostly employees who are 40 years old and older when selecting workers for a lay-off.
- Job Announcements. It is illegal to post job announcements limited to people of a certain age group, except in very rare instances, where age is shown to be a “bona fide occupational qualification” (BFOQ) reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business. An example could be a modeling agency looking for children to model children’s clothes.
- Asking a person’s age in an interview. Doing so may subject the employer to a charge of age discrimination if the person is not hired, so it is generally not advisable. An employer may ask an employee’s age or date of birth after they are hired for lawful reasons such as enrollment in company benefits or pension plan.
- Health benefits. Employers cannot deny health benefits completely to older workers if they provide them to younger ones. In some limited instances, the coverage may be reduced, but the employer must contribute the same amount to all employees’ health benefits.
- Retaliation. It is illegal to treat someone unfavorably or subject that person to any adverse employment action, such as demotion or termination, because that person complained about one of the above forms of discrimination, or if that person participated in an investigation of discrimination or testified against the employer for discriminating against themselves or others.
Because you are legally protected from retaliation, you should not be afraid to request a reasonable workplace accommodation, or complain or truthfully report workplace discrimination. If you believe that one of the above applies to you, or if you have any concerns about this topic, you should seek legal guidance.
Additionally, if you are asked to sign an agreement upon termination waiving all claims to any kind of discrimination, you should seek legal advice prior to signing.
Contact Us for Legal Assistance
When it comes to looking for legal help with any type of illegal employment discrimination, Weiler Law PLLC is here to help. Our team of attorneys understands the complexities involved in these cases and is dedicated to providing the best possible representation. We can work closely with you throughout the process to ensure that your rights are protected.