The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 prohibits employment discrimination against people age 40 or older. But a 2009 Supreme Court decision – Gross v. FBL Financial Services – imposed a sizeable burden of proof on workers who allege age discrimination than on those who allege discrimination based on race, religion or gender.
Still, many in the workplace have a gnawing in their gut. It’s with them each day and no amount of Pepto will quench the queasiness. Then comes the call: HR would like to see you …
About 35% of the U.S. workforce is age 50 or older. A recent AARP workplace survey noted nearly 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers. Moreover, about 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “It is difficult to measure with any accuracy the prevalence of discrimination in the workplace. One indicator of the prevalence of age discrimination is based on the research of the perception of age discrimination by older workers in surveys. Another indicator is age discrimination claims. Most discriminatory and harassing conduct is unreported which means charges filed with federal and state enforcement agencies represent a fraction of the likely discrimination that occurs in the workplace.”
Nevertheless, there are signs of age discrimination that you should be aware of:
- Your performance reviews tank.
- You stop getting raises.
- You are reassigned to unpleasant duties.
- You start hearing tacky comments about your age.
- Older workers are being fired or offered buyouts, and younger ones are being hired.
The 2017 AARP study showed that 76 percent of older workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job. Another report found that more than half of these older workers are prematurely pushed out of longtime jobs and 90 percent of them never earn as much again.
ProPublica and the Urban Institute analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study that found that from 1992 to 2016, 56 percent of older workers are either laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than left voluntarily.
Involuntary job separations can have serious financial consequences. Only 1 in 10 of the workers analyzed in the study went on to earn as much as they did before their employment setbacks.
Currently, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) is working its way through Congress. Introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the bill would amend the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the retaliation provision in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to level the playing field for older workers.
The bill would restore the pre-Gross standard, recognizing once again the legitimacy of so-called “mixed-motive” claims in which discrimination is a deciding, factor. It would also reaffirm that workers may use any type of admissible evidence to prove their claims.