“Is a 17-year-old protected by the age discrimination laws, or a company’s age-related policies?”

Question: Hello, Alan! Well, I am 17 years old and applied for a nursing home job as an assistant. I was interviewed and hired.

Then, nine days later I was laid off. I was told that the company started a new policy that says employees have to be 18 years old.

I am unsure if that is illegal discrimination. Also, since I was hired under the old policy, should I be protected from the new policy?

I was hoping you would know what I could do about it. 

         Mee La
         St. Paul, Minnesota

Answer: Hello, Mee! Your question is a very good one, and especially for someone of your age. It shows me that you are thinking in a wise, mature way. That is very good.

First, is what happened to you illegal? People are protected against age discrimination at work by two laws: federal law and state law. Unfortunately, the federal law against age discrimination at work, called the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or “ADEA,” only protects people who are 40 years of age or older. Also unfortunately, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, or “MHRA,” only protects people from age discrimination at work who are 18 years of age or more, while you are 17.

Second, companies are free to change their employment policies at any time they wish to do so, in their sole judgment. Unless you have a contract that says they cannot do so, an employer can change, as examples, (a) their attendance policy to require earlier arrival, (b) their dress code to require more formal attire or uniforms, or (c) their payroll policy to pay employees on Fridays instead of Thursdays. If you don’t have a contract that forbids such changes from happening to you, you need to comply with these new employer policies, or others they may institute.

Of course, you can either ask to be exempted from the new policy, or you can find a new job elsewhere. But you do not have a right to be “vested” in a former policy of this type.

Sorry for the unwelcome news. Hope you’ll be able to find something else soon. At your age I am sure it is tough to find work right now. If you just keep trying, I’m confident you will succeed.

By the way, I used to work on the West Side of St. Paul near Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Good luck with the coming winter. I always tell my friends “You don’t know what cold really means until you spend a winter in Minnesota!”

If this was helpful, please tell your friends about us. We love helping people. 

          Best, Al Sklover

To obtain a Model Complaint of Age Discrimination to HR or Management, for your adaptation to your facts and situation, just [click here.]

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.