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What workers over 40 need to know about age discrimination

Federal law protects people from discrimination based on age. However, many employees and even employers in Florida may not know how to identify age discrimination, or what to do about it.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, treating an employee unfairly based on his or her age is only illegal if the worker is at least 40 years old. Unfair actions include not hiring someone even though he or she is most qualified for the position solely based on the applicant's age. Denying an employee an earned promotion, raise, training or benefits or firing a worker based on his or her age is also illegal. 

Forty may seem a young age to begin seeing age discrimination. After all, people often have 20 to 25 years left to work before retirement at this point in their careers, and they also have put in enough time to have developed knowledge and skills that many younger workers lack. However, AARP reports that the majority of employees between 45 and 74 claim they have witnessed or personally experienced age discrimination at their jobs. 

People are learning that they do have options, thanks to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The first step should be to check an employer's policies and procedures for reporting discrimination and following these to the letter. If the situation is not addressed and corrected, an employee may file a complaint through the EEOC. Over 20,000 workers filed age discrimination charges with that federal agency in 2016. That's one out of every five discrimination charges filed that year. 

Employees also have the option to file a lawsuit against the employer. In court, plaintiffs have the burden of proof and must provide clear and convincing evidence that the actions taken against them were age-related.

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