Age Discrimination Resources

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Ageism is a particularly widespread form of discrimination, yet is not covered adequately through employment law and common HR practices. For example, the U.S. ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967) offers no protection to anyone under 40, despite the possibility of discrimination against someone who is "too young".

Depending on jurisdiction, asking a job applicant his or her age may be altogether discouraged ("should not ask", in British Columbia) or allowed, but with conditions (U.S.), e.g., that the applicant may decline to answer and that pre-employment questions about age neither express nor result in discrimination on the basis of age.

Similarly, mandatory retirement ages are enforceable in some jurisdictions, e.g., Ireland, but not others, e.g., British Columbia, where they are banned (with some crucial exceptions).

It should be noted that, from a logical point of view, any legislation that states an employer has no right to ask questions or demand answers about age does not mean it is automatically illegal to ask or demand. It simply means the job applicant has "the right to remain silent", not that the questioner will face legal penalties. Check the legislation in the jurisdiction that covers a job or company to be sure (including expat positions).

The term "age discrimination" refers to a kind of discrimination against a person on the basis of age, despite working capability and performance. Age discrimination can be of two kinds: discrimination against those perceived to be "too young" and against those perceived to be "too old".

Even those who are chronologically older than the median age of a population may be discriminated against for being "too young" by someone older, e.g., a 60-year-old senior law partner who, feeling threatened by a colleague who is ten years younger and ambitious, blocks his promotion purely on the basis of age.

(An intriguing question is whether that 50-year-old lawyer could file an age discrimination suit under the mandate of the U.S. ADEA legislation, discussed below, which protects all individuals 40 or over, even though the alleged discrimination is based on his being "too young".)

Likewise, in the highly competitive youth fashion industry, a model may be "too old" at 20 or 30. In many instances, discrimination may be very difficult to prove when the job requires being perceived as being a certain age, e.g., child models or actors. Such discrimination may be protected under the umbrella of "BOPQ"-"bona fide occupational qualifications" (U.S.) or "BOPQ"-"bona fide occupational requirements" (Canada) considerations that apply for jobs such as child actor or safety-related occupations, such as airline pilot.

There are various preconceived factors an employer may cite while denying senior workers opportunities, based only on their age. Some of them are (1) possible physical illness that might affect productivity, (2) alleged lack of flexibility of seniors, (3) expectations that seniors are "slower", (4) presumption of a lack of knowledge of modern technology, (5) low energy level, (6) demand for higher wages owing to greater experience.

Although rarer, exclusion of younger workers purely on the basis of age should be regarded as a form of ageism when the job does not require presenting oneself as being of a specific age or age range, e.g., child actor. Unfortunately, in the U.S., the principal legal protections provided are for individuals 40 or over.

The U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA),protects those who are at least 40 from workplace discrimination. The provisions of the ADEA make it illegal to deny people job opportunities, promotion, benefits, leave, etc solely owing to their age.

This act applies to any organization that has over 20 employees. Under the ADEA it is, among other things, unlawful to mention age preferences in job advertisements or deny people above 40 opportunities in apprenticeship programs.

Although the ADEA does not prohibit pre-employment questions about age, job applicants do have the right to withhold that information. Moreover, employers may ask only insofar as it does not constitute evidence of intended or subsequent discrimination.
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