Age Discrimination Compliance: What It Means for Your Business


Hedley Lawson:
Contributing Editor

With more and more of the senior population losing jobs and attempting to re-enter the workforce as a result of the global financial collapse, it is important for business owners and managers to re-acquaint themselves with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA).

ADEA protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA’s protections apply to both employees and job applicants and states it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment.

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age. The ADEA applies to businesses with 20 or more employees, including state and local governments, employment agencies and labor organizations. ADEA protections include:

• Apprenticeship Programs

It is generally unlawful for apprenticeship programs, including joint labor-management apprenticeship programs, to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s age. Age limitations in apprenticeship programs are valid only if they fall within certain specific exceptions under the ADEA or if the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) grants a specific exemption. This is important for businesses with a collective bargaining agreement.

• Job Notices and Advertisements

The ADEA generally makes it unlawful to include age preferences, limitations, or specifications in job notices or advertisements. A job notice or advertisement may specify an age limit only in the rare circumstances where age is shown to be a “bona fide occupational qualification.”

• Pre-Employment Inquiries

The ADEA does not specifically prohibit an employer from asking an applicant’s age or date of birth. However, requests for age information will be closely scrutinized to ensure the inquiry was lawful.

• Benefits

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) amended the ADEA to prohibit employers from denying benefits to older employees. However, an employer may reduce benefits based on age, as long as the cost of providing the reduced benefits to older workers is the same cost as for younger workers. ■