Too Old to Work Here: Support Against Ageism


Everyone gets older, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Still, the chance of someone over 40 years old to experience age discrimination in the workplace is over 50%, according to AARP. The truth is, this can happen in almost any field.  Also, the discrimination is particularly tragic for many individuals that have opted to complete school later in life who must start their career in an entry-level position, a career level that is swarming with young graduates who are either still living with their parents or else just barely left.

Despite all of the priceless knowledge that comes with age, many people stigmatize older folks, and a significant amount of employers adopt methods to screen them out automatically. From questionable phrases like “cultural fit” to the conniving use of algorithms to screen out applicants who are past the “age cap”, it is apparent that the struggle is real.

Of course, the truth is that age has nothing to do with an employee’s on-the-job performance. This is why the federal government has enforced the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) since 1967. Let’s talk a bit about what the ADEA truly covers.

ADEA Basics

The law applies to all jobs in the federal, state and local governments, all labor organizations, all employment agencies, and also larger private employers. It’s worth mentioning that in the United States, protection against ageism is something that tends to lean towards supporting older individuals. However, like almost every law, there are a couple stipulations regarding this type of discrimination.

  • Many people are unaware that the federal government only protects older individuals (or applicants) that are dealing with an employer that has at least 20 employees.
  • The ADEA does not support folks younger than 40 that are experiencing discrimination due to ageism.

If the first two qualifications are met, then this person has the right to argue against discrimination regarding:

  • Their term of employment
  • The condition of their employment
  • Their privilege of employment (this means their ability to be hired, fired, promoted, laid off, compensated financially or with benefits, their job assignments, and their training)
  • Harassment because of age
  • Retaliation from the employer because of age or because of filing/participating in a case regarding age discrimination.

Discrimination During the Hiring Process

Even if you are not hired by a company, you can still make a legal claim against an employer if you find their recruiting ad to be legally discriminative.

Of course, the ADEA has made it illegal for employers to blatantly post specific preferences like age or limitations (unless it is a “bona fide occupational qualification”), but the concern is when it comes to certain language that hints towards this in a simple phrase.  

Here are some examples of some discriminative things you might find in an ad. Some might not be actual discrimination, however, so it is wise to consult an employment lawyer.

  • When age is mentioned, but it isn’t relevant to the job or the essential duties
  • “Great cultural fit” (from a young tech company)
  • “Young and dynamic”
  • “Great fit for someone that is recently qualified”
  • “Recent graduate”
  • “Minimum of 10 years of experience”
  • “Must be educated to degree level”

Please note, however, that even if the ADEA protects against ageism in an ad and also for those on the job, it does still allow for an employer to ask the age and birthdate of an applicant.

Legal Support Can Make the Difference

The hardest part about seeking justice when it comes to age discrimination is that it is hard to prove and pursue, but you there are things you can do to help set things right. Truly, challenging these companies without legal support can prove to be futile. Your best bet is to reach out to a qualified age discrimination lawyer to determine what your legal options are to hold discriminative employers accountable. Many lawyers are happy to assist individuals suffering from discrimination, and it is highly likely that there is a lawyer in your area that offers free consultations.