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What Circumstances Can Lead to an Ageism Lawsuit?

09.19.2022 | Business Litigation

What Circumstances Can Lead to an Ageism Lawsuit?

Ageism under U.S. federal law, employers are not allowed to discriminate against workers that are 40 years of age or older. Some states have implemented additional regulations to prevent age-based discrimination, as well.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that was passed in 1967. It was designed to combat ageism in the workplace.

Companies can face negative consequences if they treat employees differently because of their age. For example, a company cannot treat a 35-year-old worker in a more favorable way than a 50-year-old worker purely because of their age differences.

The regulations specified in the ADEA apply to all kinds of professional relationships. This includes hiring, employment, and termination. Discriminating against older employees puts companies in breach of the ADEA, which in turn can make businesses vulnerable to ageism lawsuit.

The ADEA also prohibits retaliation against employees who allege ageism or other forms of discrimination. The best way to avoid an ageism lawsuit is to structure your business in ways that are weighted for or against employees of various age groups.

In the following post, we will examine some of the key issues that affect employers when it comes to ageism. We will also examine circumstances that lead to ageism lawsuit.

Ageism at Various Stages of Employment

Anti-ageism regulations apply to all kinds of employer-employee relationships. Age-based discrimination at any stage of employment can result in a discrimination lawsuit.

For example, businesses are prohibited from age-based discrimination in the following areas:

  • Hiring and new employment
  • Firings, layoffs, and terminations
  • Pay scale, wages, or salary
  • Workplace functions and job assignments
  • Promotions and demotions
  • Trainings and professional development opportunities
  • Benefits and coverage

If a company discriminates against an employee or applicant during any of these processes because of age, they are at risk for an ageism lawsuit.

Common Circumstances that Lead to Allegations of Ageism

There are many common circumstances that can lead to ageism lawsuits. Companies should take active precautions against age-based discrimination.

As you review your employment practices, it can be helpful to speak with an experienced business attorney. This will help to ensure that your company is doing everything possible to avoid ageism complaints.

Many allegations of ageism occur in the following contexts:

Ageist Job Applications and Advertisements

Job advertisements can sometimes display an unfair preference for younger applicants. For instance, some companies will post want ads asking for “young” people. This is a violation of federal hiring laws.

When a business wants to hire a recent graduate or fill an entry-level position, they may conflate this with wanting a young applicant. Even if a hiring manager doesn’t intend to discriminate in an advertisement, the phrasing of job descriptions may lead some candidates to believe that they wouldn’t be welcome to apply, even if they fit all of the job prerequisites.

In today’s marketplace, a recent college graduate may be 60 years old. A person in their 50s may need to apply for an entry-level job. It is crucial to avoid age-based discrimination in job advertisements and in the application review process.

Ageism in the Hiring Process

Another common problem revolves around ageist hiring practices. Interviews are a common setting for age-based discrimination.

During job interviews, it is important to focus on the needs of the position and the qualifications of the applicant. If a candidate mentions their age, the interviewer should simply move on. This fact alone cannot qualify or disqualify a person for a position. Interviewers should also think about any internal biases that they may hold that are based on assumptions of what a person of a certain age can or cannot do.

Lack of Anti-Ageist Corporate Policies

Like all human communities, every business develops a unique culture. Even without a formal employee handbook, companies foster internal rules and norms.

When a business allows ageism to go unchecked, that business will likely be at risk of having a lawsuit filed against it. Companies should enact explicit and active anti-discrimination policies. These policies can help all employees to feel welcome and valued. Anti-ageism policies should be communicated clearly to workers at all levels.

Managers should review anti-discrimination policies regularly and lead by example. Cultivating an equitable and non-discriminatory business culture is one of the best ways to avoid lawsuits. It is also the best way to build a healthy work environment.

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