Belonging to a protected class of workers means that employers cannot discriminate against you based on your inclusion in that group of people. Among the various protected classes are older workers. Their designation as a protected class is meant to protect older workers from being unfairly fired and replaced with younger workers or from being denied a fair opportunity to even apply for a job because they are “too” old.
But how old do you have to be to qualify for this protection? Does it just apply to those nearing retirement age? Could someone who is in their 20s experience discrimination in a workforce filled with teens?
The federal cutoff is 40 years of age or older
Your protections in this regard are provided at a federal level by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). It defines the cutoff as 40 years of age or older. Thus, someone who is 40 years of age has protection from ageism, but a 39-year-old would not — even if they are both treated unfairly by an employer because of their age.
In many cases, older workers find themselves shuffled out of their position because a company wants younger, more tech-savvy employees or a “youthful” image to their customers.
Your age discrimination case may be complicated
If you feel you’re being discriminated against due to your age, please note that the case itself can be very complicated. Can you show that your age was the only reason you weren’t hired or that you lost your job? Your employer (or former employer) may counter with an excuse like saying your production was lacking or that you didn’t get along with the other staff.
Companies try to hide discrimination in many ways, and you must know what options you have to protect your interests. Working with a seasoned advocate is probably the best move you can make.