Understanding Age Discrimination in the Workplace: A Guide to California Employment Laws


In today’s rapidly evolving job market, diversity and inclusion have become central pillars of progressive workplaces. However, despite advancements in employment laws and increased awareness, age discrimination remains a prevalent issue, particularly in California. As one of the most populous and economically significant states in the U.S., California has stringent laws in place to protect workers from discrimination based on age. In this guide, we’ll delve into the nuances of age discrimination within California’s employment landscape and explore the legal protections afforded to workers.

What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination occurs when an individual is treated unfairly in the workplace due to their age, whether they are too young or too old. This can manifest in various forms, including:

  1. Hiring practices that favor younger candidates over older ones.
  2. Offering lower wages or fewer benefits to older employees.
  3. Passing over older workers for promotions or training opportunities.
  4. Subjecting older workers to harassment or hostile work environments based on age.
  5. Forcing older workers into early retirement or layoffs due to their age.

Age discrimination not only undermines the dignity of affected individuals but also hampers organizational productivity and innovation by depriving workplaces of the diverse perspectives that come with age diversity.

California Employment Laws Against Age Discrimination:

California has robust laws in place to combat age discrimination and protect workers’ rights. The primary legislation addressing age discrimination in the state is the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Under FEHA, it is illegal for employers with five or more employees to discriminate against individuals who are 40 years of age or older based on their age in hiring, firing, compensation, promotion, or any other terms and conditions of employment.

Key Provisions of FEHA:

  1. Prohibition of Age Discrimination: FEHA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on their age.
  2. Harassment Protection: The law also prohibits harassment based on age, including offensive jokes, derogatory remarks, or other unwelcome conduct related to a person’s age.
  3. Retaliation Prohibition: FEHA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who assert their rights under the law or participate in investigations or legal proceedings related to age discrimination.
  4. Reasonable Accommodation: Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to older workers to enable them to perform their job duties effectively, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Enforcement and Remedies:

Individuals who believe they have been subjected to age discrimination in violation of FEHA have the right to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or pursue legal action through the court system. Remedies for age discrimination may include compensation for lost wages, reinstatement, promotion, reasonable accommodations, and attorney’s fees.

Practical Steps for Employers:

To prevent age discrimination in the workplace and ensure compliance with California employment laws, employers can take the following steps:

  1. Implement Anti-Discrimination Policies: Establish clear policies prohibiting age discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and communicate these policies to all employees.
  2. Provide Training: Train managers and employees on recognizing and addressing age discrimination and creating inclusive work environments.
  3. Review Hiring Practices: Review hiring practices to ensure they are fair and unbiased, and avoid discriminatory practices such as age-related preferences in job postings or recruitment.
  4. Address Complaints Promptly: Take complaints of age discrimination seriously and conduct thorough investigations in a timely manner.
  5. Accommodate Older Workers: Be proactive in providing reasonable accommodations to older workers to support their continued success in the workplace.


Age discrimination remains a persistent challenge in today’s workforce, but California’s employment laws offer strong protections for workers against this form of discrimination. By understanding these laws and taking proactive measures to foster inclusivity and diversity, employers can create workplaces where individuals of all ages are valued and respected for their contributions. As we strive for a more equitable and inclusive society, combating age discrimination must remain a priority for both employers and policymakers alike.

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