How the Age Discrimination in Employment Act affects your nonprofitThe Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against employees age 40 or older. Here are the basics.
Who's covered by the law?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is a federal law that applies to U.S. employers with more than 20 employees who work more than 20 hours in a calendar year. Small nonprofits that don't fit this criterion may still be subject to the law depending on their sources of funding. State laws prohibiting age discrimination may apply as well.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is directed to workers age 40 and older. An original upper age limit of 65 years was eliminated. The law doesn't cover workers younger than age 40 or those who experience discrimination due to younger age rather than older age.
What's the scope of the law?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits firing, demotion, harassment or any other on-the-job mistreatment related to age. You can't, for example, force a worker to retire just because you think he or she has reached a reasonable retirement age. Similarly, you can't reassign someone to another job purely on the basis of age. It's also illegal to reduce a worker's hours or to otherwise make the working conditions difficult or unpleasant in an effort to force a resignation.
Similarly, the law prohibits age discrimination in hiring. It's illegal to reject an otherwise-qualified job candidate simply because he or she is age 40 or older.
Finally, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits retaliation. You can't punish someone who has reported or witnessed a violation of the law.
The law is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employers found to be in violation of the law may be ordered to pay the employee any compensation lost due to the discrimination (back pay) and take steps to correct the effect of the discrimination.
Are there any exceptions to the law?
There are a few exceptions to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Independent contractors aren't covered by the law, for example, nor are elected officials. Some state employees are also exempt.
"Bona fide occupational qualifications" also serve as exceptions. Take the case of a theater company casting a play. An actor's age determines whether he or she can play a particular character — so it's not age discrimination to look only for actors between ages 9 and 14, for example, to play a character described as 10 years old.
This article draws on the expertise of Grace Davies, a Minneapolis-based attorney with special interest in product liability, medical malpractice and employment discrimination.