The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. It applies to employers with 20 or more employees, including state and local government. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADEA.

ADEA applies to both employees and job applicants. The ADEA prohibits discrimination against a person because of age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.

A brief summary of ADEA protections:

• Job Notices and Advertisements: It is generally unlawful to include age preferences, limitations, or specifications in job notices or advertisements. Employers may specify an age limit only in the rare circumstance where age is a “bona fide occupational qualification” reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business. Prohibited language includes words that the EEOC considers age-related, such as preferences for “energetic” candidates.

• Pre-Employment Inquiries: While the ADEA does not specifically prohibit an employer from asking an applicant’s age or date of birth, requests for age information must be necessary for a lawful purpose.

• Benefits: Employers may not deny benefits to older employees. Employers may be able to reduce benefits based on age under very limited circumstances where the cost of providing reduced benefits to older workers is the same as the cost of providing benefits to younger workers.

• Waivers of ADEA Rights: An employer may ask an employee to waive rights under the ADEA in settlement of a claim or an employment termination. The ADEA, as amended by the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) sets specific minimum standards that must be met in order for a waiver to be considered knowing and voluntary. Particularly in the context of group terminations, these requirements can be complex.

Washington employers covered by ADEA also are responsible for complying with the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). WLAD similarly prohibits age discrimination, and covers employers with as few as 8 employees. County and city ordinances also may prohibit age discrimination, and these local measures may cover even smaller employers.

For more information on compliance with the ADEA as well as state and local laws, please contact Foster Pepper’s Employment and Labor Relations Practice Group.