What Constitutes Age Discrimination in the Workplace?

An older businesswoman using a tablet and smartphone - age discrimination in the workplace concept

Due to increased longevity, financial need, and changing social norms, individuals are remaining in the workforce longer than ever before. Unfortunately, age discrimination in the workplace is all too common an occurrence. If you are a worker over the age of 40, it’s important to be aware that you are a member of a protected class. There are state and federal laws in place to protect you from being discriminated against or harassed at work because of your age.

What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employer treats an employee over 40 less favorably due to their age. Regardless of whether your employer’s actions are blatant or subtle, this type of conduct is illegal during all phases of the employment process under both state and federal law, including the following: hiring, training, promoting, job assignments, termination, layoffs, benefits, and any other condition of employment. Notably, job policies that seem neutral may constitute age discrimination if they have a discriminatory effect on workers over 40.

Age discrimination in the workplace can take many forms, including:

  • A pattern of hiring only younger employees
  • Refusing to hire an applicant based on their age
  • Paying an older worker less for doing the same work as younger workers
  • Offering different perks to younger employees
  • Not promoting a worker based on their age
  • Using derogatory age-specific language
  • Denying training opportunities to workers based on their age
  • Encouraging older workers to retire

In addition, it is illegal to harass a worker because of their age. Age-based harassment can include verbal and physical conduct, such as making derogatory remarks or offensive gestures in connection with a worker’s age. While one instance of teasing may not rise to the level of age-related harassment, the conduct becomes illegal when it creates a hostile working environment or results in an adverse employment action.

Workplace Age Discrimination Laws

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was signed into law in 1967 and provided the first significant protections in the workplace to older employees. Under this law, it is illegal to discriminate against individuals over the age of 40 when it comes to any aspect of employment. A company is only permitted to establish an age limitation, without being in violation of the law, if age is a bona fide occupational qualification necessary in connection with the job duties associated with the position.

While the ADEA applies to those who work for companies with 20 or more employees, Ohio law provides broader protections for those who have been subjected to age discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, the state statute protects those who are employed by — or are seeking employment with — a company that employs 4 or more workers. Like the legal protections provided under the ADEA, the Ohio law makes it illegal to terminate, refuse to hire, fail to promote, or discriminate against an employee in any manner because they are over 40.

Can You Sue for Age Discrimination in the Workplace?

A worker who was discriminated against based on their age may be entitled to file a lawsuit to recover the damages they incurred under state or federal law. In order to bring a claim for age discrimination in the workplace, you must establish that you were at least 40 at the time the discrimination occurred and you suffered an adverse employment action because of it. You must also show that you were qualified for the position and would not have been subjected to the adverse employment action, but for your age.

Before you can file a claim under the ADEA in court, you must first file a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) within 180 days from the incident constituting age discrimination. Alternatively, you can file a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days from the time the discrimination occurred — or within 30 days after receiving notice from the OCRC that the investigation into your matter concluded, whichever happens first. Once 60 days have passed after filing your EEOC claim, you can commence an action in court against your employer. If you prevail in your case, the court can award you a wide range of damages, including back pay, front pay, attorneys’ fees, and reinstatement to your position.

In the event you choose to take legal action under Ohio’s age discrimination law, you may either file a charge with the OCRC, or you can file a lawsuit within two years. However, it’s vital to understand that if you pursue an age discrimination claim with the OCRC, you may be precluded from bringing a civil claim in court under state law. If you file suit and the court determines that your employer engaged in age discrimination, you may be entitled to a variety of remedies, including reinstatement to your position, monetary damages for lost wages or benefits, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.

Contact an Experienced Ohio Employment Attorney

The state and federal laws regarding age discrimination are extremely complex and it’s crucial to have knowledgeable counsel by your side to advise you regarding your rights and remedies. Located in Westlake and providing skillful representation to clients throughout Ohio, employment law attorney Chris Lalak advocates for the rights of employees who have been subjected to age discrimination in the workplace and other employment law violations. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.