When I was fifteen years old, I spent my summer working as an electrician apprentice. I wasn’t a fan of the work, but the $11.50/ hour seemed pretty great, especially when compared to my sixteen and seventeen year old peers who were flipping burgers for minimum wage, which was only $7.25/ hour in Michigan during the time that I was employed. Most of the job sites that I worked on were construction sites, and many of the people that I worked alongside were the stereotypical old fashioned conservatives that are common within the trades. Most of the people I worked with were great, and we all got along great. There is however one specific incident that I know very well would not fly if I were a few decades older.
I was working outside at a lumberyard and I was instructed to help dig a trench using a shovel to run an underground wire to a shed. As I was digging one of the lumberyard employees struck up a short conversation with me and my uncle, who was also a co worker. Somehow during our discussion, he went off onto a tangent about his hatred for millenials, during which he told my uncle about how surprised he was that I wasn’t out protesting about having to do physical labor or demanding a “participation trophy” like all of the other “snowflake liberal millennials”. I only nodded and went back to work, but directly after I returned home I began to wish that I had taken a stand for myself. I could have simply pointed out the fact that he was a forklifter being paid to sit down and drive a forklift around while I was outside digging in the 90 degree Michigan summer heat, but I knew very well that I could not have said much. This is because of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. This act protects older employees from being replaced by young workers, keeps workers with greater seniority from being laid off, and from being harassed for their age. While this act does not apply to small businesses (companies with fewer than 20 employees), most states have enacted laws that protect older workers in smaller business settings as well.
I was well aware of this act when I was 15, but I began to wonder how common the inverse is, and if treatment like this is just a scourge that young people like myself would just have to put up with. In a social media survey of 65 18-24 year olds by Saint Peter’s University Students Chanaz Gargouri and Carla Guaman, 37.77% answered that they had experience workplace discrimination for their young age, and 60% felt that their coworkers had negative stereotypes against themselves for their lack of experience. One of the respondents wrote “When I was 18 and 19, employers treated me poorly because I was young. I had to work a job in the mall as a janitor. I got that job because of my appearance, because I looked young. If you look good for the job, you get it. Employers treated me different, based on my appearance or judged me because of my age. Because you are young, you are irresponsible. Or because you are young, you are good for this job, not for that job. I felt like a piece of meat because they judged me for my age… they do not give you a chance to prove yourself”
Fortunately for young people in situations like this, many states including my home state Michigan offer protection for young workers against reverse age discrimination as well. All of these states that protect against reverse age discrimination offer all of the same protections that ADEA does to employees under the age of 40. This means that it is illegal for employers to turn down an applicant for being too young (if they are at least 18 years of age) in these states, or verbally harass younger co workers with degrading names and insults like “snowflake”. Below is a table of states that have age discrimination laws separate from the ADEA, and the requirements to file a complaint. Readers who live in states that do not currently offer protection against reverse age discrimination should reach out to their state’s legislators and bring attention to how common age discrimination against young employees is in the workplace.
|State||Separate state discrimination laws||Minimum number of employees required to file a claim||Protection against “reverse” age discrimination|
|Arizona||Yes||No minimum requirement||No|
|Colorado||Yes||No minimum requirement||No|
|District of Columbia||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|Hawaii||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|Maine||Yes||No minimum requirement with limitations under 15 employees||Yes|
|Michigan||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|Minnesota||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|Montana||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|New Jersey||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|North Dakota||Yes||No minimum requirement||No|
|Ohio||Yes||4 with no minimum requirement to file a “public policy” claim in court||No|
No minimum requirement
|Oregon||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|Vermont||Yes||No minimum requirement||Yes|
|West Virginia||Yes||No minimum requirement||No|
|Wisconsin||Yes||No minimum requirement||No|