Firing Employees Over 50: When Age Is More Than Just a Number

Joe Weinlick
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Age discrimination, unfortunately, does occur in the workplace. People over 50 who have been fired often find themselves questioning if they were let go for valid reasons or if age factored into the decision. Learn the facts about age discrimination to determine if you have fired someone or have been fired for unjust reasons.

How Is an Employee Protected?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects job applicants and employees age 40 and above from discrimination based on age. As an employer, you cannot factor age into the hiring decision or the reason to let an employee go. The law applies to all employment agencies, the federal government, employers with at least 20 employees, labor organizations with at least 25 members, and state and local government offices.

State laws, although they vary, also protect workers from age discrimination. These specific laws are intended to enhance protection for people 40 or older, and typically apply to companies with less than 20 employees.

Employees facing a termination have more protection against age discrimination than people who are seeking positions later in life. When an employee is fired, he can request a specific reason for the termination and challenge reasons that are proven to be false or indicate age discrimination. For a job seeker, however, employers may not disclose reasons for not hiring him, even if he suspect that age was a factor in the decision.

What Constitutes Age Discrimination?

Employers cannot reference age as a reason to fire an employee. Federal law also prevents employers from discriminating based on age when determining job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, pay or fringe benefits. A person's age does not warrant any type of harassment from co-workers, supervisors or customers. Harassment and discrimination include offensive remarks about the person's age. Although teasing, isolated incidents or offhand comments are not always punishable by law, when harassment creates an offensive work environment that is hostile and leads to termination of the victim, these actions are deemed illegal.

What Is Wrongful Termination Due to Age?

An employee who is fired because the employer believes the person to be too "old" for the job has grounds for an age discrimination suit for a wrongful firing. People who are 50 or older should not be reprimanded or fired for any reason related to their age. For example, if they do not care for the same clothing trends or music as younger employees, it doesn't mean they cannot complete the requirements of the position.

People 50 and older often possess the knowledge and skills needed to be productive on the job, and just because an employer views the person as outdated or unwilling to conform to the likes and dislikes of younger employees, firing is not warranted based on age alone. The law strictly stipulates that practices and procedures of each business should not have a "disparate impact" on older workers. Older professionals should not be passed over for promotions because the company anticipates they will retire soon or have become stale members of the workforce.

How Are Employees Discriminated Against Based on Age?

Employers are also prohibited from creating policies or procedures that discriminate against age, such as reserving certain clients for younger executives or employees because it is perceived that the younger employee is more in tune with what the customer wants or needs. Older employees should also have the right to participate in training, professional development and promotion opportunities. Just because a person is 50 or older does not mean he should be deprived of the same opportunities as a younger person to enhance his skills and be promoted within the company.

Employers must hire from a diverse workforce to enhance productivity and profitability. Forcing an older employee to retire, or firing individuals because they seem to be too "old" to represent the company's fresh new image, is illegal. All workers should be given the opportunity to utilize their skills, engage with clients and customers, and participate in workplace training. Work environments and supervisors who focus on age when re-inventing the company's image may not only be engaging in illegal practices and age discrimination, they could also be limiting crucial talent from enhancing their success.

Photo Courtesy of Imagerymajestic at


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  • Helen J.
    Helen J.

    Job's should be open to 62and S.S.D.people who still want to work,doing something,so they can feel useful.They should not have the fear,of losing something they paid into working.Let the people 62-65 be utilized also.

  • Dennis K.
    Dennis K.

    Culling the over 55 out of consideration for employment. Yes, as I fill out applications for employment, I am told age is not a factor, however, a quiet decision not to hire because of age is done multiple times a day. How? If the application does not ask my age, what importance is it to know what year I graduated from High School? Also, how do I know I was not discriminated against for my age when I was asked my date and year of birth on the employment application? The law is made of Swiss Cheese. D.Kulp

  • Paul Blundell
    Paul Blundell

    Company gets away with calling me old fat and handicapped, comments about age ageism is rampant even in company meetings. Younger workers will not stand up for older workers or those who have a disability. I was refused use of car in sub zero weather and got frost bite because younger supervisor wanted to walk a mile in sub zero weather. Complained to HR got assurances they then fired HR manager and then fired me on trumped up charges.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. @Stephanie I totally agree. Just because we have gray hair doesn't mean that we are dinosaurs! I, also, have worked on computers since the early 80's and was one of the first ones to start using the Internet back when we used Netscape! @Amelia it truly is a shame that companies don't realize the value they are getting with a more mature worker. For the most part we are done having children and most of our children are school aged - at least. So we don't normally need to take the time off to raise our families. In many cases we don't need the large salaries that we drew back when we were in our 20's and 30's. I guess every generation we go through this where companies want to hire young people and put the older workers out to pasture.

  • Stephanie H.
    Stephanie H.

    Looking for employment over 50 is not easy... usually you never hear back or if you are lucky enough to get a face to face interview the interviewer will start emphasizing various duties they feel an older person could not do. In a casual conversion I actually had someone tell me they had a lot of problem with older people and computers. My response was "well not me I've used them since the 80s... why not give me a try?"

  • Amelia Freeman
    Amelia Freeman

    I used to work at a community college and that included assisting many many people who were in their forties or fifties going back to school for a major career change. I also saw career fairs absolutely ignore this demographic. While that's not illegal of course, it doesn't bode well for prospects of sending out resumes and finding jobs. I'd think a smart company would go out of there way to find these older people who are smart enough to learn new skills while balancing family, full time jobs, and other things many college graduates in their early 20s don't have to deal with.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. I, too, believe that it would be very hard to prove age discrimination when it comes to hiring or firing. Companies drive to get rid of older employees because they cost more and they can hire two recent graduates for the same price. What they fail to consider is that it is going to take those two new employees a long time to get up to speed and be the same caliber of employee as that older worker who was let go. Companies seem to very shortsighted these days. It truly is unbelievable that 40 is now the age when a person is considered "old". In ten more years, that age is going to be down to 30 and then what do we do? I believe that what goes around, comes around. Those companies who were too shortsighted to see down the road even five years and let go their senior talent are going to be the ones who are firing for bankruptcy protection and shuttering their doors. All companies need to have a mix of age groups as well as a mix of male/female and find ways to match people up for mentoring, training and cross training. Without this, they will be gone.

  • Lorri Cotton
    Lorri Cotton

    The sad thing about age discrimination, is that it is so pervasive. When a person over 40 gets fired, it's often very difficult for them to obtain a comparable position. I am thankful that there are laws to protect these very valuable workers, but I fear that proving allegations may be difficult, if not impossible. The drive to get rid of older employees is quite puzzling, to me. Experience beats training every day. Doesn't it seem like "corporate suicide" when they get rid of their employees with the most experience. There should be a push to retain these workers and pair them with younger workers in a sort of mentor program. Perhaps companies will realize what they are giving up, when they fire a highly-experienced, older employee.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    I am certain that proving an age-related firing or hiring snub would prove exceptionally difficult; there are always a myriad of other reasons to let go of an employee. This kind of callous personnel practice does little to engender loyalty from younger works. My company has recently fired several employees that had been with the company for years, evidently arbitrarily and quite suddenly. And now, suddenly, I am quite active on job sites, although my age doesn't put me in the target zone just yet.

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    Protection of older employees seems even more important now that people are living longer lives, on average. With medical treatment being what it is, many individuals may live well into their eighties and nineties--which makes the prospect of losing one's job at 40 or 50 even more terrifying. At 40, you may have more than half a life left to live! And this isn't even touching the importance of experience, mentorship, and the various insights only older employees can bring to the workforce.


    I am wondering how hard it is for older employees to prove that they were wrongfully terminated because of their age. I have a feeling that many employers would claim they were firing older employees for different reasons to protect themselves from lawsuits. This issue is similiar to what pregnant women often face in the workplace. I've heard of cases were pregnant women were fired for different reasons or given less hours or lower paying work. It's really unfortunate that in 2016, these types of job discrimination still exist.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    Keep in mind age discrimination, under federal law, begins at age 40 and not at age 50. Unfortunately, older workers have a perception of not keeping up with current trends or technology. This bias comes from the age when consumers have the most money to spend, which is the 18 to 34 demographic. Employers wrongfully believe that only younger employees can deal with younger consumers, which simply is not the case.

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    This all brings into question how people prove that age was the cause for termination, demotion or the glass ceiling. We can have a pretty solid intuition that this was the reason, but it seems unlikely that employers would outright admit to ageism. Unless someone is a whistle blower, how can you legally prove discrimination of this sort?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    So in short, it's super-important to try to use the law to prevent being let go in the first place — and if you're let go, to challenge the termination as soon as possible. Really, the over-50 crowd bring so much valuable experience to the table that they're arguably the strongest demographic from an age perspective.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    The information here is sad, but also very true. Personally, I saw my mother stay in a dead-end job, complete her degree at 45, only to be laid off after she turned 50 as the company hired a new group of younger college graduates. People over 50 DO have the skills needed and often the experience that companies are overlooking.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. It is so true that cutting the older employees is short-sighted. Speaking from personal experience, I saw this happen in the military when, in the early 90's, the military workforce was cut drastically with the major cuts coming from the upper ranks. It didn't take long for the powers that be to realize that they made a mistake. By cutting the older and more expensive employees from the top, all of the expertise was cut, too. The lower ranks could not compensate for that and it took about ten years for the military to recover. Of course now they want to have a repeat of that disastrous mistake. Companies do the same thing thinking that they can save money. Typically what happens is that they have to hire outside contractors to do the work that the younger generations just don't have the experience for and the company ends up paying more for the contractors than they would have if they had just kept the older employees! They never seem to learn.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    Older employees have a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge that they can pass on to their younger colleagues. Pairing employees from different age groups to work together would be a great way for companies to train their employees as each age group often brings a different set of skills to the table. A company without any diversity in its workforce is at a disadvantage in this age.

  • Cory L.
    Cory L.

    It's actions like this that younger members of the workforce don't have any company loyalty. When they see how veterans of their industry are treated, it's not a surprise that their own loyalty to a company is far lower than it could be. Getting rid of older employees harms the entire workforce, particularly when it comes to morale.

  • Jeff Kohlmann
    Jeff Kohlmann

    Sony doesn't care... they've been doing it for years.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    Treating older employees in a discriminatory manner seems short-sighted-- not only does it deprive the company of the older employees' expertise, but the actions can't possibly go un-noticed by younger members of the company. If younger employees can tell that they'll be treated poorly down the road, they may be more likely to leave the company, creating higher turnover.

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