There’s little debate about the fact that the U.S. economy is on its way into a recession (if a recession hasn’t already started). This is almost entirely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the shutdown of many sectors of the economy and the large-scale unemployment that followed. Even as businesses reopen, many will be forced to cut costs and downsize in order to stay financially viable.
As business owners make difficult firing and layoff decisions, many concerned parties are predicting that older workers will be hit the hardest, much like they were in the Great Recession that began in 2008. This is especially important to employment law attorneys, as many of these employment decisions based on age are likely to violate anti-discrimination laws.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers over age 40 on the basis of age. In response to the coronavirus and the related recession, illegal employment practices might include:
- Firing or refusing to hire older workers because they are statistically at higher risk of serious complications and death from Covid-19
- Firing or refusing to hire older workers due to assumptions that they will be an expensive drain on employer-sponsored health insurance
- Selectively furloughing older employees but not younger ones
- Selectively enforcing personal protective equipment mandates so that only older employees are required to wear masks and face shields
- Significantly altering an older employee’s job duties and position to keep them away from the public
Some of these changes, like moving older employees away from public-facing positions, are likely made with good intentions. But such decisions cannot be selectively made and enforced solely on the basis of age. Doing so would likely constitute illegal age discrimination.
If you are an older worker and have faced age discrimination in hiring, firing or work practices, please discuss your rights and legal options with an experienced employment law attorney.