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Democrats and Republicans in Congress have joined on a bill to bolster workplace protections for older Americans.

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act calls for reducing hurdles that older workers face when they file age discrimination claims, the Society For Human Resource Management reports. The respective House and Senate bills would amend the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 as well as similar federal laws tied to workplace discrimination.

The ADEA requires that employers with 20 or more workers not be allowed to discriminate against those 40 and older, with a main requirement being that employers, for the most part, cannot force an employee to retire. “We must make clear to employers that no amount of age discrimination is acceptable,” says Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa, who is sponsoring the bill on the Senate side. “And we must strengthen anti-discrimination protections that are being eroded.”

More than 50% of older U.S. workers were forced out of jobs they held for a long time and had endured financial hardship that was often permanent, according to research released December last year by the Urban Institute and ProPublica.

The new bill would overturn a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made it harder for older workers to prove they faced discrimination due to their age, according to AARP. In that ruling, Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc., the top court decided that older workers would need to prove their age was a main factor in them being fired, disciplined or not hired. That is a much higher standard compared with proving discrimination based on race, sex, national origin or religion.

Under the new bill, alleged victims of age discrimination are not required to show that age was a main reason for the employer firing them. “We commend these lawmakers for sponsoring this crucial legislation,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Too many older workers have been victims of unfair age discrimination and are denied a fair shake in our justice system. The time for Congress to act is now.”

In February, a 48-year-old IKEA employee, Brandon Paine, in a class action lawsuit alleged that the firm violated the ADEA with a “corporate culture of age bias,” HR Dive reports. Paine alleges that IKEA promoted four younger employees in their late 20s for a position they had earlier denied him, and also demoted him a few months later.

The move showed IKEA favored “younger employees over older employees by offering younger employees better jobs with higher pay,” Paine alleged. At least five current and former IKEA employees also have filed age discrimination suits since February last year. “Older employees generally, because they've been in the company longer, tend to be more senior, more highly paid,” says Matt Gomes, a partner at Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn and Dial. “Seniority is a legitimate, bona fide justification for wage difference in the same job.”

In an AARP survey from last year, almost 66% of workers 45 and older have seen or been through age discrimination at the work place. In 2010, for the first time, the number of age-bias complaints from women exceeded those filed by men, Forbes reports. And 64% of women confirm that they have either seen or been victims of age discrimination. “But it’s also just a tip of the iceberg,” Forbes reports. “It’s estimated that only 3% of older workers have ever made an official complaint to a supervisor, human resource person, or another organization or government agency.”

Davida Perry, a New York-based employment lawyer, advises that workers who feel they are being discriminated should file a written complaint with HR. “There should be some written record, even if it’s a confirmatory email after the meeting,” Perry says. “It should be recorded somewhere, so that the company doesn’t come back later on and say, ‘Yeah she came in. And she was talking about the fact that people are mean to her. Here are my notes and I wrote down everything she said.’ And then she doesn’t have anything to say.”

Last modified on Sunday, 14 April 2019
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