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Older Workers Are Not in The Way—They Are the Way!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Richard T. Moore
May 15, 2021

In her thoughtful blog last Fall, “Reframing aging in contemporary politics,” Patricia DiAntonio, Vice President of Professional Affairs at the Gerontological Society of America writes:

“In America, as we approach old age, we start to be treated differently. Instead of being included in work and community spheres, we are marginalized and ignored. Instead of viewing older age as a period of opportunity and continued contribution, the American public sees old age as a period of dependence and decline. Even worse, this sense of fatalism pervades our response to the challenges of aging. As a result, programs and policies that could address the changing demographics of the aging population get short shrift among the public and policymakers. An outward manifestation of these attitudes is ageism. Ageism is discrimination based on negative assumptions about age. This has an impact on older people’s lives. And this impact is serious. It may be overt or subtle.”

It seems that too many employers and workers hoping to move up the career ladder share the belief that old age is, clearly, a period of dependence and decline. How many accomplished septuagenarians or octogenarians, still vital and anxious to continue contributing their knowledge and expertise, are marginalized or ignored, especially when they talk about a past practice that might solve a current problem? How many, seeking a new position, never hear back or receive letters stating, “You have a very impressive resume, but we’re continuing our search for someone who would be a better fit.”

There is already a federal law that makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person age 40 or older because of his or her age with respect to any term, condition or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignment and training. It’s known as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). However, even with this “protection,” workers who allege discrimination must meet an undue legal burden not faced by workers alleging discrimination based on race, sex, national origin or religion.

Fortunately, there’s a bi-partisan group of senators who have introduced a measure aimed at, “Making it easier for Americans to bring work-related age discrimination cases against their employers.”  The proposal amends the current anti-discrimination statute, “To restore the plaintiff’s burden of proof to where it had been before a ruling in a 2009 Supreme Court case (Gross vs. FBL Financial Services) that established a more stringent standard.” A companion bill has also been introduced in the United States House.

This important change has the backing of the influential AARP. The bill is known as the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). “The introduction of this bill is a crucial step to strengthening the law and restoring fairness for older workers who experience age discrimination,” according to Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President. LeaMond added, “It sends a clear message that discrimination in the workplace—against older workers or others—is never acceptable.”

Susan Weinstock, AARP Vice President of Financial Resilience, noted that the Supreme Court decision, “Left older workers at a disadvantage.” She explains that the bill would, “Level the playing field,” by placing age discrimination on par with other forms of discrimination.

As our population ages, despite gains through technology, older workers will be increasingly valued. Yet, without a more age-friendly environment, fixing the age-discrimination law is especially important. “The current volume and rapid increase of people remaining well past traditional retirement age is unprecedented,” according to a Deloitte report. By 2024, 1 in 4 United States workers will be 55 or older, a major increase in mature workers.  As stated in a recent Ladders column, “85% of the Baby Boomer population plans to work until their 70s and even 80s, according to the U.S. Senate’s 2017 Special Committee on Aging report, ‘America’s Aging Workforce.’”

As Arlene Donovan, an executive coach, career transition and workforce development profession wrote in Forbes Magazine, “Many employers are misled by the notion that older workers lack the fortitude to be trained, adapt to changes quickly and be flexible. But it is with great delight that I dispel this kind of thinking. Older workers are a valuable commodity and possess industry knowledge that is vital to the sustainability of today’s economy. These skilled and versatile trailblazers are competent and committed collaborators who have mastered the art of communicating effectively toward optimizing revenue, results and relationships.”

Author: Richard T. Moore has served in both elective and appointive public office at local, state, and national levels of government. He served for nearly two decades each in the Massachusetts House and Senate, and was chosen as President of the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2010-2011 He is a past president of the Massachusetts Chapter of ASPA and served on the National ASPA Council. He is a member of Dignity Alliance Massachusetts advocating for older adults and people with disabilities. Email: [email protected].

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