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Is age discrimination prohibited by law?

Most Oklahomans are probably aware that employers are not allowed to discriminate in the hiring and promotion of employees on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. Some may wonder, however, if there are other categories of people against whom an employer may not discriminate. In fact, there are several, but one of the less well-known categories is that of age.

Title 29 of the U.S. Code contains the federal law on the regulation of labor. Within that title, chapter 14 deals with discrimination on the basis of age. Specifically, the general rules with regard to age discrimination are spelled out in section 623 of chapter 14. This section makes it clear that employers may not fire or fail to hire a certain employee based upon his or her age. Further, this law also prohibits employers from making age the determining factor in decisions that would affect the employment opportunities or status of an employee. It also states that employers cannot cut a person's wage rate solely because of that person's age. The law also applies to employment agencies and labor organizations, such as unions.

So does this mean age can never be taken into account? Well, not entirely. There is an exception to the federal law in cases where age is a bona fide job qualification. This means that when the age of the employee is a specific qualification for the position that is reasonably required to run the business, it may be taken into account. Further, it isn't age discrimination if there are other reasonable factors aside from age that are the actual reason for differentiating one employee or potential employee from another. One example that comes to mind might be some specific age-related health problems that interfere with work that may be reasonably taken into account (although, depending on the circumstances, discrimination on this basis may run afoul of another federal law).

It is important to note that the statute, like many employment discrimination laws, also makes it illegal to fire a worker in retaliation for bringing discrimination problems to light, or helping another in his or her discrimination claim. So, what does one do if one thinks he or she has been discriminated against? One option, if a lay-off or firing was involved, is to consider a suit for wrongful termination.

Source: Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, "29 U.S. Code § 623 - Prohibition of age discrimination," accessed, Sep. 15, 2014

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