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The ADEA at 50: A not-so-happy birthday

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is as old, if not older than the workers it strives to protect. Enacted in 1967, the ADEA was supposed to alter the playing field for older workers. However, according to EEOC Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic, outdated stereotypes continue as to employment practices that exclude or discourage workers who are 50 and older.

In a commission hearing to commemorate the 50th birthday of the ADEA, Lipnic and other witnesses told the EEOC that workers unemployed in their 50s and 60s endure longer periods of joblessness than younger candidates do. Many outright give up and leave the work force.

In 2016, the EEOC received 20,857 age discrimination claims. Yet, only two of the 86 lawsuits the agency filed were over ageism. In light of that statistic and fearing the ADEA being treated as a second-class statute, AARP senior attorney Laurie McCann urged the EEOC to strengthen age discrimination regulations and increase enforcement.

McCann citied a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that made it more difficult to prove age discrimination claims than those involving race or gender bias. In addition, the ADEA does not provide for monetary or punitive damages, making it difficult to find an attorney to take the case.

While many problems were cited, some valid solutions exist, including

  • Congress should amend the ADEA and clarify protections in the EEOC
  • Educate hiring managers and supervisors on age being part of diversity and inclusion
  • Increase the availability of technology training
  • Establish intergenerational work teams
  • Flexible workplace options to "phase" down from full-time employment

The benefits of hiring older workers are numerous. Currently, companies are facing a "skills gap" inherent during a time of low employment. The smart employer explores those untapped areas and hires workers less inclined to change jobs and provide stability.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is about to add a 50th candle to its birthday cake. The best possible gift may be a change in attitudes and reductions in biases when it comes to older employees.

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