President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) into law in 1967. The scope of the ADEA protection involved the banning of discriminatory practices within the workforce against workers who had surpassed the age of forty. Congress had received enough data verifying that the older workers of America were being unfairly stereotyped and were not being given the same access to employment as younger citizens.
The need for this type of legislation arose when investigators discovered during the early 1960’s that employers were barring workers over the age of 55 from over half of the available positions in the private labor force. Even younger people in their mid 40’s were ineligible for a quarter of the jobs, and elderly citizens over the age of 65 found the doors of opportunity closed to them in every direction.
Since its inception, the ADEA has undergone a few amendments to include a wider segment of an aging community. One of the first changes was the removal of an initial age cap of 70 years old. The most recent change to the policy came with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) in 1990, when Congress realized that an estimated 78 million Baby Boomers would begin to enter retirement age, and would not likely be adequately prepared for retirement. These numbers mean that an increasing number of jobs will soon have to be made available to keep up with an aging population.
Some of the violations that the ADEA was established to eliminate, but still tend to linger, are when older workers are unfairly pre-judged as being stubborn and unwilling to be adapt to new technologies and shifts in culture. Older workers can also face the challenges of being perceived as too frail, and, therefore, less productive. It comes down to a Civil Rights issue despite Congress choosing not to include age in the list of written protected classes.
What Does the ADEA Mean to Baby Boomers?
The expected flood of Baby Boomer retirees who are living longer, healthier lives than any other generation before it, will not only be an issue of numbers but also of longevity. People are simply living much longer than ever. As early as the 1950’s the average life expectancy of a man retiring at 65 was eight years. One report from the Stanford Center on Longevity says that that number had increased to 19 years by 2010.
Unfortunately, this massive influx of qualified older workers will inevitably have to be on the lookout for signs of discrimination if they are going to be able to survive.
One of the more subtle discriminatory acts to be aware of is being pre-selected for release because of age when downsizing occurs. An employer is also not permitted to require someone to retire early. They are allowed to offer incentive packages instead, which may be attractive enough to accept. It is also important to understand that it is illegal for an employer to punish, or reprimand an employee for filing, or representing a claim. The burden of proof will be on the employee, and they should be well prepared to defend their claim.
An employer may also offer a worker a separation, or severance package in exchange for signing away the employees’ rights under the ADEA. Before doing this, the best course of action would be to seek out the services of an experienced law firm that specializes in Age Discrimination Law to review any paperwork, and represent the case.
The subtle nuances and intricate social engagements in situations involving age discrimination are seldom clearly definable in real life. It is important for anyone 40 years or older to gain a working knowledge of what is and what is not allowed when it comes to both hiring practices and company termination policies. By doing so, an aging workforce will be able to defend themselves against discrimination when it occurs.