As certain employees get older, they may start to feel more confident in their jobs as they gain experience and start to feel like a part of their work community. However, for others, aging in the workforce can bring about feelings of anxiety or fear. Unfortunately, ageism is one of the most common forms of discrimination in the workforce today. This is because of the many widely believed misconceptions society has about older people.
As a result, older employees may become afraid to lose their jobs simply based on how old they are. The question is, can you be fired legally based on your age?
According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone 40 or older in any aspect of employment. This includes but is not limited to the hiring, promotion, and firing processes. Importantly, this only applies to companies with at least 20 employees and does not protect anyone under the age of 40. However, this does not mean that your state doesn’t have different protections for younger employees or for companies with less than 20 employees. It does mean that, outside of the circumstance, you are not protected under federal law.
We know that federal law protects older employees, but can you ever legally be fired based on your age? This is a tricky question to answer because, in some states, it is perfectly legal for an employer to fire an employee for being too young.
There is also the case of bona fide occupation qualification (BFOQ). In extremely rare cases, if your ability, age, sex, or religion prevents you from completing a necessary part of your job, an employer can fire you. As we age, our bodies lose certain physical abilities. Therefore, in a tangential way, you could be fired based on your age. To clarify, let’s look at an example:
Donald is 45 and has worked at the same construction company for the past 20 years. Over recent years, he’s developed debilitating, severe arthritis that prevents him from being able to pick up heavy objects or hold tools the way he used to. If Donald’s employer were to fire him because he can no longer do his job due to natural, age-related medical issues, then yes—it would be legal for his boss to do so.
However, in most cases, employees in this situation would typically leave on their own accord. BFOQs are extremely rare.
An employer could lie about the truth of why they fire you, or they may not have to tell you at all if you live in an at-will employment state. However, if you suspect your employer fired you for illegal, agist reasons, there are ways to tell.
If any of these situations sound like your case, contact the Law Firm of Tamara N Holder today. We’ll put you in contact with one of our dedicated and experienced age discrimination attorneys, who will treat your case with the respect, care, and confidentiality you deserve.