Bill would make it easier for workers to bring age discrimination cases

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Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) discusses the aging workforce Wednesday at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) discusses the aging workforce Wednesday at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for older Americans to bring work-related age discrimination cases as the United States marks the 50th anniversary year of the passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would amend the ADEA to restore plaintiffs' burden of proof to where it had been before a ruling in a 2009 Supreme Court case (Gross vs. FBL Financial Services) established a more stringent standard. The ADEA prohibits employment discrimination against those aged 40 or more years.

Casey discussed the newer legislation Wednesday in his opening remarks during a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing at which the committee also issued a report on opportunities and challenges related to the aging workforce. He is the ranking member of the committee, and Collins is the chairman.

“As baby boomers were turning 65, a U.S. Supreme Court decision weakened ADEA protections,” Casey said. “We've got to fix that.”

The bill's prospects are uncertain, however. Casey introduced it at the end of February and it was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, but the committee has not taken action on it.

But regardless of the fate of the legislation, the government and employers can take steps to try to meet the needs of an aging workforce, according to the Aging Committee.

“Exemplary” employers “are instituting policies and programs such as flexible schedules, family caregiving information and referral services, and retirement planning,” Collins said. “Others are providing ergonomic office designs and changing cultures to welcome workers across the spectrum of age and disability levels.”

The importance of doing so will become even more evident over the next decade, Collins said.

“While the labor force as a whole is projected to grow by an average of just 0.6 percent per year between 2016 and 2026, the number of workers ages 65 to 74 is projected to grow by more than four percent annually, and the number of workers ages 75 and above is projected to grow by nearly seven percent annually,” she said.

Policies that can benefit workers, employers, their communities and the country, according to the committee's report, should:

  • Allow for the flexibility of individuals to carve their own career paths and determine for themselves when and how they retire.
  • Value and respect the decisions of older adults to continue working, to volunteer or to find another way to achieve their personal and professional goals.
  • Help workers remain financially secure while confronting challenges that may arise with age, such as caregiving responsibilities or health conditions.
  • Allow employers the flexibility to creatively meet the individual needs of their workers while ensuring that employees are provided ample opportunities to grow and thrive in the workplace.

Health-related industries are among those that would benefit from a revised outlook, according to the report, which cited 2015 research by the Society for Human Resources Management.

“Even though the health and social service occupations (e.g., registered nurses, personal care aides) are projected to be among the fastest growing in the next decade, human resource professionals from these industries were not any more likely to formally consider the aging of the workforce than any other industry,” the authors said of the study. “They also were less likely to offer apprenticeship programs to recruit and retain aging workers.”

Wednesday's hearing is available for viewing online. Access the committee report here. Read the text of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act here.

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