Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is the federal law governing age discrimination. It was enacted in 1967 to promote the employment of older workers based on ability rather than age, prevent discrimination, and help solve the problems that arise with an aging workforce. Many states also have laws prohibiting age discrimination and may have more restrictions than the ADEA.
State-by-state comparision of 50 employment laws in 50 states, including age discrimination
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits an employer from refusing to hire, firing, or otherwise discriminating against an employee age 40 or older, solely on the basis of age. Thus, an employer can’t deny an employee pay or fringe benefits when the only justification is age. Nor may an employer classify employees into groups on the basis of age in a way that unfairly deprives workers of employment opportunities. For example, an employer may not relegate all older workers to a particular level of employment within a company and then decline to promote them.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act functions similarly to other federal discrimination laws, such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the ADEA has its own rules concerning which employers are covered and other requirements.
Who qualifies as an employer under the ADEA?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act defines “employer” to include every individual, partnership, association, labor organization, corporation, business trust, legal representative, or organized group of persons who (1) is engaged in an industry affecting commerce (most every industry will affect commerce within the meaning of the ADEA); and (2) has 20 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
To be covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employer must:
- Be engaged in an industry affecting commerce;
- Have 20 or more employees; and
- Have an employment relationship with the claimed employee.
HR Guide to Employment Law: A practical compliance reference manual covering 14 topics, including discrimination
Who qualifies as an employee under the ADEA?
Whether an individual is an employee for purposes of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act depends mainly on the conduct of the worker. Very few people are expressly excluded from the definition of “employee” in the ADEA.
Independent contractors are not employees within the meaning of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and are not entitled to its protections.There must be an employer/employee relationship for the ADEA to come into play. People elected to office in a state or a political subdivision of the state are excluded, as are the personal staff, policymaking appointees, and immediate advisers of the elected officer.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees who are at least 40 years old. There’s no cap, so all workers 40 and older are protected by the ADEA, with a few exclusions and exceptions. For instance, an elected official and her staff and “policy making appointees” are excluded from the ADEA.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act carves out a compulsory retirement exception for “bona fide executives” or “high policymakers” – i.e., an employer may impose compulsory retirement on any employee age 65 or older who is either a bona fide executive or high policymaker and who is entitled to receive a nonforfeitable annual retirement benefit of at least $44,000.
Audit your policies and practices dealing with age discrimination and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act with the Employment Practices Self-Audit Workbook
Other federal laws affecting the ADEA
In 1990, Congress further extended the reach of the Age Discriminatin in Employment Act by passing the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) as a way to further ensure that worker benefits were protected from age discrimination.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law in January 2009, changes when the statute of limitations begins for workers’ claims of pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to declare that an unlawful employment practice occurs not only when a discriminatory pay decision or practice is adopted but also when the employee becomes subject to the decision or practice, as well as each additional application of that decision or practice. In other words, each time compensation is paid.