We have spoken in the past about various forms of workplace discrimination, such as that based on race, gender or disability. We have also mentioned that federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of age. But what does this mean, and to what ages does it apply?
As with other forms of employment discrimination, the law does not allow employers to base hiring, firing, advancement, bonus, or other employment opportunities solely on the basis of age. Unlike other discriminatory practices, however, age discrimination laws only work in one direction. That is, according to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, federal age discrimination law applies only to workers over 40 years old. There is nothing in the law that protects workers under the age of 40 from an employer's discrimination based upon their ages. Further, the law prevents discrimination only against the older worker. For example, it would not be illegal to favor an older employee over a younger one, even if both these workers were over the age of 40.
Federal law also prohibits the harassment of employees due to their age. Offensive remarks or other behavior that rise to the level of creating a hostile working environment for the targeted employee would be illegal. As with other types of harassment under federal law, the harasser can be, but does not have to be, the employee's superior. It is illegal when a hostile working environment is created by anyone connected to the workplace, be it a supervisor, co-worker, customer, or client.
Finally, it is also possible for an employer's practice or policy run afoul of the anti-discrimination law because it has an actual negative effect on employees or applicants for employment that are over the age of 40, unless there is a separate reasonable basis that is not age. This is true even if the policy or practice, on its face, appears to apply to everyone. If you have specific questions or concerns about an Oklahoma workplace discrimination issue, you may wish to consider consulting an experienced employment law attorney.