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The Eldercare Advocate: Age Discrimination in the Workplace

February 20, 2020|advocacy, age discrimination, Ageism, Aging Parents, Depression, Dignity, elder justice, feelings, Fulfilling Life, intergenerational workforce, Life with Purpose, possibilities, Purposeful Living, Quality of Life, Respect, stress, usefulness, Well-Being, wellbeing, Wisdom, wisdom workplace, workforce


The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, was meant to provide protection to anyone over 40 years of age from being discriminated again on the basis of age in hiring, promotions, discharge, compensation of other term, conditions or privileges of employment. Until that time, there were no protections in the workplace against people as they increased in age. The history of the legislation harkens from creation and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and specifically Title VII, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. What was missing from these protections were those based on age. After a government sponsored study, it was determined that the reality of age discrimination for a large percentage of the American population was a growing concern. This led to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. in 1998 the Workforce Investment Act was passed which protected all applicants and employees from discrimination based on age as well as discrimination due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, political affiliation or belief. 


However, the protections afforded to people who fall into this age group were whittled down by the Supreme Court in 2009 when the ruling made it more difficult for people to sue their employers for discrimination on the basis of age.


In today’s society, many employers are aware of the need for an inclusive and diverse work force. They may even take extra pains to ensure their hiring practices reflect modern trends in hiring and employment practices. However, one area which has lagged behind in awareness for diversity is intergenerational diversity. Many companies force older workers into early retirement, lower the age for them to receive disability or pension benefits, laying off older workers or intentionally promoting or hiring younger persons to oversee the work of the older employee or move them into a more obsolete position in an effort to force them out of the workplace. 


It may be true that younger workers are more versed in newer trends, philosophies or applications in particular areas. However, the wisdom and experience that the older worker brings to the workplace cannot be underestimated and should definitely not be undervalued in its importance.

The young person has much to learn from their older counterpart not only in the workforce, but in society and in life. This is consistent with our negative attitudes towards and treatment of elders in our society.


The federal government is as guilty of age discrimination as the private sector. It is the largest employer in the U.S., with roughly 4.2 million workers, which includes postal workers and persons in all branches of the military who wear the uniform. There are mandatory ages for many federal employees. (i.e., there is mandatory retirement for federally employed law enforcement officers at the age of 57 and air traffic controllers at 56) This is based on a previously held assumption entirely without merit or validity that physical and mental abilities decline at those ages. 


According to John Grobe, president of Federal Career Experts, a consulting firm that advises government agencies and their employees about retirement, the purpose behind these mandatory retirement ages to maintain “‘a young and vigorous workforce. ”  But as we all know, this is a gross misconception. I’m sure we all know someone who may appear older than their years at 40, while others are alert, active and vital well into their 80’s and 90’s. In 2015, a vibrant 102 year old German woman, denied the ability to continue her education as student in her 20’s because she was Jewish, received her PhD in Hamburg, Germany on the subject of diphtheria. While this case may be atypical, is certainly speaks to the possibilities. Yet our words often reflect our biases without even realizing it: we say someone is over the hill, slow as molasses in winter, not a spring chicken, etc.


Some hard facts about age and the workforce.


According to AARP, 61% of older workers of people 50+ years of age who remain in the workforce have noticed or have first-hand experience with age discrimination. Of those who reported experiencing bias based on their age, 95% view it as a common occurrence in the workplace. The article reports that those who are at least 45 years of age foresee the potential of losing their job within the next year and one third of them believe it will be due to their age. According to a joint study conducted by ProPublica and the Urban Institute, It is estimated that approximately 56% of older workers experience at least one involuntary job loss after age 50.

Age discrimination is so ingrained in our culture, and in each of us, that after reading an AARP article on this very subject, I realized that as an older person, I am guilty of participating in, or reinforcing, negative stereotypes about age.  I have joked about younger people being more savvy with technology, about my own adult children ridiculing me for not being up on the latest app or being able to problem solve technology issues and how younger people relying on texting or their inability or unwillingness to write a letter, a thanks you note or send a Hallmark.  


Conversely, most companies have missed out on the important reality that older workers possess a depth of knowledge and experience that is worth the investment, is not easily replaceable and can be tapped into in many different ways. In essence, they are the workforce wisdom keepers.


Paul Rupert, the founder and CEO of Respectful Exits, a nonprofit consulting firm that is raising corporate awareness about age discrimination says, “People walk out of companies now with an enormous amount of intellectual property in their heads. They know things that are essential to the company’s success, and if that knowledge is not captured and transmitted to the next generation, that company is losing a tremendous chunk of capital and it’ll eventually pay a price.” He goes on to say, “It’s a sad phrase, but companies view their workforce the same way they view their capital equipment. You buy it, you assume it has a certain shelf life, and then you get rid of it and replace it with a new model.”


According to a July, 2019  article in BuiltIn by Bailey Reiners the average age of retirement was 63 in 2001 and jumped to 66 by 2018. Most people expect to live at least 20 years after retiring, most have less than $250,000 in retirement savings. With those numbers, those who retire with that amount of money in savings person can expect to live off $12,500 each year for