State and federal laws prohibit ageist employment discrimination

Many Americans are living longer and participating in the workforce well after the traditional retirement age. However, too many employers continue to discriminate against “older” employees. From denied training opportunities to career change hurdles or even the loss of long-held positions, U.S. employees over the age of 40 often face serious bias.

Employees should know that both federal and California state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against current or prospective workers based on age. Employers who do so may violate the California Fair Employment Housing Act and the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

What the California FEHA covers

California’s FEHA applies to both private and public employers, including employment agencies and labor organizations. This act makes it illegal for employers with five or more workers to discriminate or retaliate against employees based on age. The law also prohibits age-based harassment against any worker, even if the business has fewer than five employees.

This state-wide act applies to a wide range of business practices, not just hiring and firing. In addition to prohibiting bias during applications, screenings and interviews, the FEHA makes it illegal to discriminate when planning promotions, transfers and compensation. The act also covers non-compensatory positions, including apprenticeships, internships or volunteer positions.

What the U.S. ADEA covers

The U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 also protects current and potential employees over 40 years old from biased employment practices ranging from hiring new workers and determining job assignments to offering training opportunities and benefit packages. The ADEA applies even when both the victim and the discriminating individual are over the age of 40.

As with California’s FEHA, the ADEA makes age-based harassment unlawful. Occasional offhand comments about a person’s age may not rise to the level of illegality. However, persistence and frequency of harassment that creates a hostile work environment or leads to adverse employment decisions may violate U.S. law.