Discriminatory hiring practices limit the ability of individuals with certain protected characteristics to support themselves and advance their careers. In order to level the playing field, the federal government has created a list of certain characteristics that are illegal for employers to discriminate about when it comes to hiring, compensation, firing and promotions.

Protected characteristics include religion, race, medical disabilities and gender. Age is another protected characteristic, although some people misunderstand what constitutes age discrimination. Is it age discrimination if a company has a firm policy against hiring teenagers or those still enrolled in high school?

Age discrimination impacts older workers, not teens

Age discrimination as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only affects those who are over the age of 40. Essentially, age discrimination involves an employer worrying more about someone’s increasing age than they do about their qualifications to perform a job.

Workers over the age of 40 may have a harder time networking with younger professionals and may also struggle to get their foot in the door at a new company, especially if that company prioritizes technology or other niche areas of employment that many stereotypically associate with younger generations. Companies may also worry about retirement benefits or insurance costs when considering the impact of hiring or even retaining workers over the age of 40.

It is illegal for a company to consider a worker’s age if they are over 40 for the purposes of hiring, firing or promotion. However, it does not necessarily constitute discrimination to have a policy that requires that workers be a certain age before they can secure employment at the company. In fact, when you consider the extra legal awareness and paperwork often required for companies that hire minors or those still enrolled in high school, it’s easy to see why some businesses avoid doing so.

Workers facing discrimination still have rights

While an individual company may not prioritize the rights of an individual with certain protected characteristics, that doesn’t mean that older professionals facing discrimination are powerless.

Documenting what you believe constitutes discrimination and bringing the issue to the attention of the company can sometimes be enough to correct the issue. Other times, you may need to consider taking legal action against the company that discriminates based on age.