It can often be difficult to determine when discrimination is occurring in the workplace. Some discrimination is blatant and easy to label, refusing to promote someone explicitly because of her race, gender, etc. However, many forms of discrimination are more subtle and harder to challenge by employees alone.
Federal law takes the subtleties of discrimination into account in various legislative acts. For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) helps protect workers who experience bias-related harm in the workplace as a result of their advanced age.
Earlier this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a final rule related to this form of discrimination and specifically clarified issues related reasonable factors other than age (RFOA) as addressed by the ADEA.
The ADEA essentially prohibits the kinds of practices and policies which effectively harm older employees significantly more than younger employees. The general exception to this rule provides that employers may engage in such practices or advance such policies if these factors are grounded in a RFOA.
RFOAs are considered to be legitimate grounds for age-related discriminatory behavior if certain factors apply to the situation. For example, if the practice or policy relates to a stated business purpose, this may constitute sufficient legal grounds to keep the practice or policy in place. For example, if a business advertised that its purpose was to provide families with young energetic nannies fresh out of college, this may be a valid reason to discriminate against the employer's older workers.
Additional nuanced exceptions to the ADEA allow for discrimination against older workers. However, these exceptions only apply in rare situations. In general, the EEOC's clarification of the RFOA issues in the ADEA serves remind employers that age discrimination must be the exception rather than the rule.
Source: Business Management Daily, "What are the new EEOC rules on age bias?" David B. Ritter, Sep. 2012