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As members of the post-World War II baby boom enter their 60s, age discrimination claims filed with the EEOC are on the rise. Last year, 22,857 people filed age-related complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), compared with 16,548 in 2006, according to new data compiled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
But what exactly is age discrimination and what can you do about it?
What Constitutes Age Discrimination
Age discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) less favorably because of his or her age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older at workplaces with 20 or more employees. However, some states have laws that protect younger workers or apply to smaller workplaces.
Age discrimination can occur with respect to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, or fringe benefits.
It's also unlawful to harass someone because of his or her age. But it must be more than simple teasing. The harassment must be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision (such as being fired or demoted).
Even an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of age, can be illegal if it has a negative impact on applicants or employees age 40 or older and is not based on a reasonable factor other than age (RFOA).
What To Do About It
For a victim of age discrimination, one of the first steps for taking legal action would be to file a complaint (referred to as a charge) with the EEOC.
You may file a charge of employment discrimination at the EEOC office closest to where you live, or at any one of the EEOC's 53 field offices.
How long you have to file a charge may depend on where the discrimination happened. The standard deadline is 180 days. But for age discrimination charges, the deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if there's a state law prohibiting age discrimination in employment and a state agency or authority enforcing that law. But remember: it can't be a local law; it must be a state law.
For more help, you may want to speak to an experienced employment law attorney.