The workplace is likely where the majority of Washington D.C. residents spend most of their waking hours. For this reason, the environment and atmosphere in the workplace can have a profound effect on employees' mental states and overall health. Unfortunately, many people have to cope with a hostile work environment or job loss due to unlawful discrimination. One of the less commonly discussed, but nevertheless common, forms of unlawful discrimination is age discrimination.
In general, age discrimination does not refer to any kind of discrimination related to age; instead, it refers to discrimination against older workers, specifically those aged 40 or older. There is a specific law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which expressly prohibits discrimination against people based on their being 40 or older. The ADEA is a federal law. Some individual states may have laws that protect against discrimination against younger workers, but generally the laws focus on older workers.
Favoring an older worker over a younger one is not prohibited by the ADEA, even if both employees are above the age of 40. The age of the person discriminating against the employee or worker has no bearing on whether the actions constitute discrimination. The discrimination prohibited by the ADEA refers to any kind of discrimination in all areas of employment, including the receipt of fringe benefits, promotions, hiring and firing decisions, pay, training opportunities, and job assignments.
Although discrimination and harassment are different, harassment based on age is also prohibited in the workplace, as these actions can quickly create a toxic and unhealthy work environment. Teasing is not generally classified as harassment, and isolated incidents similarly do not often pose legal problems. However, offensive remarks related to a person's age can constitute harassment when they occur frequently, have an effect on employment-related decisions, or create a hostile work environment.
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Age Discrimination," last accessed Dec. 15, 2014