It is illegal for employees to discriminate based on age. This is generally a rule to protect older workers. Clearly, there are laws in place to keep employers from exploiting children, but there were also issues with employers refusing to hire people who were over 40 or not giving them the same opportunities, so protections were needed in both directions.
In 2021, it is unlikely that most employers would ever advertise for a job by specifying an age range. They know well that saying they want to hire someone from 21 to 35 years old would be a clear violation of these protections. But that does not mean that age discrimination no longer exists or that companies will not do it. They just may try to hide it.
Age as it connects to life events
One way they could do this is by asking for workers who have recently experienced specific life events — such as graduating from college — that are typically connected to a certain age range. This is why it’s an issue if an employer says they want to hire a “recent college graduate” and does not specify the age.
The average college freshman is 18 years old. If they graduate in four or five years, they will be 22 or 23 at graduation. Even someone who stays in school to get an advanced degree will be 25 or so.
While there is some variation here, and you can certainly find people who graduate in their 30s, 40s and 50s, the key is that the majority of people who have recently finished school will be well under 40. Most of them won’t even be 30. By saying that they only want those who have recently gotten a degree, the company is really saying that they do not want anyone who is over 30 years old to apply.
That doesn’t prevent those people from applying anyway, but they know from the beginning that they are most likely not going to get the job and that they’re being discriminated against, despite their skills and experience, in favor of younger workers.
What can you do?
If you have experienced workplace discrimination of any kind, you need to know what legal steps to take.