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What is age discrimination?

There are many different ways that workplace discrimination can occur. Regardless of the particular manifestation, however, discrimination is always a violation of employee rights in the workplace. One of the lesser discussed types of discrimination is age discrimination. Age discrimination is a significant concern, however--so much so that there is federal legislation that protects against it.

In general, age discrimination includes any action that treats someone less favorably--or gives preferential treatment to someone else--due to his or her age. The federal law that relates to age discrimination is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. With regard to this act, the legal limit for qualifying as a victim of age discrimination is 40. Employees under 40 are not protected against age discrimination under the ADEA. However, in some states there are other laws to protect younger victims.

Age discrimination does not require a disparity in age between the person performing the discriminatory action and the person being discriminated against. In fact, both the discriminator and the discriminated can be over 40. Age discrimination can occur in many different ways in the workplace, including pay and benefits, hiring and firing decisions, promotions and layoffs, and other aspects of employment.

Age discrimination can also take the form of harassment related to a person's age. With regard to age discrimination, the law prohibits many different forms of harassment, including making offensive remarks about a person's age. However, in order for comments, teasing and other similar actions to constitute age harassment, the actions must either be frequent and severe (thereby causing a hostile work environment) or be the impetus for an adverse employment decision.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Age Discrimination," last accessed April 25, 2015

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