Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is a real problem that comes up for current employees and in the hiring process. Older workers are sometimes denied opportunities employers give to their younger colleagues. When making hiring decisions, employers sometimes don't consider job candidates over a certain age. Refusing to hire someone because of his age is illegal in the United States. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are age 40 and above from employment discrimination, including discrimination in hiring. This means that an employer can't refuse to hire you because of your age (as long as you are 40 or older). An employer can't state an age preference in advertisements for most jobs. There are exceptions for jobs for which age is a real issue, such as a modeling or an acting job.

Responding to Age-Related Questions on Job Interviews

Even though an employer can't decide not to hire you because of your age, that might not stop her from inquiring about it on a job interview. And it won't keep you from feeling uncomfortable if the interviewer asks you how old you are. So what should you do if a prospective employer asks your age? You have some choices: You can answer the question honestly, you can lie, or you can refuse to answer it. Even if you normally are untruthful about your age, you are cautioned against lying about anything on a job interview. It will put you in a bad light with the employer — the employer can't discriminate against you because of your age, but he may decide to not hire you if he feels you are dishonest. You can either tell the truth or you can refuse to answer the question. If you refuse to answer the question, you should do so in a nonconfrontational manner. You might even consider joking about the question — for example, “A lady never reveals her age” (if, in fact, you are a lady).

It is a myth that it is illegal for an employer to ask your age on a job interview or on an employment application. In reality, it is not the question that is illegal. Rather, if the employer decides not to hire you because of your age, that is illegal.

What to Do about Age Discrimination

When you are turned down for a job, you will probably try to figure out the reason. It is often easy to jump to the one for which you bear no responsibility — your age. You may make the assumption that you weren't hired because the employer discriminated against you due to your age. Be careful before you take that accusation any further than your own mind. There could be other reasons you were rejected for a job. For example, although you have a lot of experience, it may not be the right experience.

Your formal training may not be appropriate. Maybe the interviewer just didn't like you or didn't think you would fit in well in his workplace.

Does age discrimination happen often?

Age discrimination happens, but people don't always report it. There are also cases in which people claim they've been discriminated against because of age even though they haven't. They might have decided against hiring you for the job for entirely different reasons. In 2005 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 16,585 claims of age discrimination. Of those claims, 63 percent were deemed nonreasonable.

Your suspicions could be right, though. Maybe the employer didn't hire you because of your age. Ask yourself these questions before you draw a conclusion:

  • Did the interviewer ask overt questions about your age?

  • Did he make derogatory comments about your age or the number of years you've been working?

  • Did the employer turn you down for the job but hire someone a lot younger than you are?

If you do ultimately conclude that you were discriminated against because of your age, you can file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can file a claim by mail or phone with your nearest EEOC office. You can find a list of EEOC offices on the agency's Web site: www.eeoc.gov/offices.html. You can also look for a listing in the government pages of your telephone directory.

According to the EEOC Web site, you have 180 days from the date of the alleged violation to file your claim. You must provide the EEOC with your name, address, and telephone number, as well as the name, address, and telephone number of the employer who allegedly discriminated against you. You also have to include the date and a description of the violation.

Many states and localities also have age discrimination laws. Agencies within those states and localities are responsible for enforcing those laws. If you file a claim with one of those agencies (referred to as Fair Employment Practices Agencies — FEPAs — by the EEOC), that agency will dual-file your claim with the EEOC. Likewise, if you file your claim with the EEOC, it will dual-file it with your state or local FEPA.

If you think you have been a victim of age discrimination, as defined by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, you can file a private lawsuit against the employer. You should be aware that you must file a claim with the EEOC before you file your private suit.

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