Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)


The term age discrimination refers to the act of treating someone in the workplace unfairly because of their age.  Age discrimination typically occurs in the hiring process, although there are a number of other specific workplace protections offered to individuals age forty or older.


Signed into law by President Johnson in 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) made it illegal to discriminate against individuals age forty or older.  Enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADEA protects individuals from unfair acts with respect to:  hiring, job assignments, compensation, promotions, fringe benefits, layoff, discharge, and other rights of employment.

The span of protections offered under the ADEA includes:

  • Apprenticeships:  while there are certain exceptions, it's unlawful to discriminate against someone wishing to gain entry into an apprenticeship program.
  • Job Postings:  generally, it is unlawful to include age preferences or specifications when advertising a job opening, unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).
  • Pre-Employment Applications:  while employers are permitted to ask a job applicant their age or date of birth, the information gathered via these documents must be made for a lawful purpose.
  • Employee Benefits:  employers are specifically prohibited from denying benefits to older workers.  However, it is lawful for employers to reduce benefits based on age if the cost to provide these benefits is the same as the cost to provide the benefit to workers under the age of forty.

The law applies to companies with twenty or more employees, in addition to all state and local governments.  Harassment of workers because of their age is also illegal, since it creates an offensive or hostile work environment; harassment may be as simple as a series of offensive remarks concerning the victim's age.  It's also illegal to retaliate against an employee that files a report of such discrimination, testifies on behalf of a victim, or is involved in any other legal proceeding under the ADEA.

Note: Mandatory retirement (based on age) is permitted for executives over the age of 65, who are in policy-making positions and who are entitled to certain pension benefits.

Related Terms

active job search, Americans with Disabilities Act, affirmative action, applicant pool, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Equal Employment Opportunity, Family and Medical Leave Act, USERRA, unemployment discrimination, wrongful demotion