What Is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 protects workers who are age 40 and older from workplace discrimination.

It prohibits employers from making decisions to hire, fire, or promote employees based on their age. The objective of the ADEA is to minimize the damaging effects of long-term unemployment on older workers.

Key Takeaways

  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects those age 40 and older from workplace discrimination.
  • Employers are prohibited from making hiring and firing decisions, among others, based on an employee's or job applicant's age.
  • The Act applies to companies with 20 or more workers.
  • It aims to minimize the damaging effects of long-term unemployment on older workers.
  • Before you file an age discrimination lawsuit in court, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and receive a Notice of Right to Sue.

Understanding the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) specifically prohibits the use of an employee’s or job applicant’s age as a factor in "hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment." The Act outlines a comprehensive ban on discriminatory practices based on age. Specifically, it prohibits the following:

  • Discrimination in hiring practices, the awarding or withholding of promotions, wages, terminations, and layoffs.
  • The use of or making statements regarding certain age preferences or limitations.
  • Harassing an older worker because of their age.
  • Denying benefits to older employees. (An employer is only allowed to cut benefits based on age if the cost of providing reduced benefits to older workers is the same as what providing full benefits to younger workers would cost).
  • Mandatory retirement at a certain age. (Mandatory retirement for workers based on age is only allowed with executives who are entitled to a pension that pays over an annual minimum sum).

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), applies to private and public employers with at least 20 workers (on a regular basis within the current or prior calendar year), as well as to union practices affecting union members.

Victims of age discrimination as outlined in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are eligible to receive compensatory and punitive damages if reinstatement is not feasible and/or if the employer intentionally violated the law.

History of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

When passed in 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act cited the frequent practice of using “arbitrary age limits” to make staffing decisions. It noted that the loss of job skills due to long-term unemployment disproportionately affects older workers. The law’s objective was to minimize these damaging effects.

The intent of the Act, as per the Congressional statement of findings and purpose, is "to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age; to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment; to help employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment."

If you think you have been a victim of age discrimination in the workplace, you can file a charge with the EEOC through its public portal. But be aware that there are time limits: Employees have 180 days to file a charge, although this is extended to 300 days in some states. Job applicants need to file within 45 days.

Amendments to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act was first amended in 1986 and again in 1990 with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act. The 1986 amendment eliminated an age cap on workers 70 and older. Previously, the ADEA only protected workers between the ages of 40 and 70.  

In 1990, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act was added to the ADEA. This amendment prohibits employers from using age to determine an employee’s benefits. It also protects older workers from being pressured into signing legal waivers that would relinquish their right to sue for age discrimination.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act FAQs

What Qualifies as Age Discrimination?

Refusing to hire or promote employees that are 40 years of age or older qualifies as age discrimination. Additionally, outright firing or limiting things like compensation, assignments, and benefits based on age also qualifies as age discrimination.

What Is An Example of Age Discrimination?

Common examples of age discrimination include getting fired because the company wants a younger (and cheaper) workforce, being denied a promotion that eventually went to a younger external hire, and receiving negative job reviews due to a lack of "flexibility."

Can You Sue Your Employer For Age Discrimination?

Yes. If you've been treated unfairly at work due to your age, you may have grounds to sue your employer. However, before you file a lawsuit in court, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and receive a Notice of Right to Sue.

How Many Charges of Age Discrimination Were Filed Last Year?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in the fiscal year 2020, there were 14,183 charges of age discrimination filed, totaling 21% of all charges of workplace discrimination.

The Bottom Line

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 is an important bill, seeking to protect those who are age 40 and older from workplace discrimination.

Specifically, it prevents employers from making decisions to hire, fire, or promote employees based on their age. Studying the ins and outs of the ADEA goes a long way in knowing your rights in the workplace.