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Can Age Discrimination Affect a Worker’s Health?

March 15th, 2021

Data at Yale University showed that age discrimination negatively affected a person’s health in 96 percent of their studies. The researchers included data from seven million older people in 422 studies conducted from 1970 to 2017 in 45 countries. The researchers found that ageism affected people’s health on both an individual and a general-population level. Individually, age discrimination was found to be related to the following health consequences:

  • Mental illness
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Physical illnesses
  • Decreased longevity
  • Poorer quality of life
  • Compromised social relationships
  • Risky health behaviors

The research also found that age discrimination affected the health of the general older population through the following ways:

  • Denial of access to health care
  • Exclusion from clinical trials
  • Having resources, including medical services
  • Limited work opportunities

Is Age Discrimination in the Workplace Illegal in Pennsylvania?

A Pennsylvania employer cannot terminate, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against an employee because of their age. Additionally, the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 bans age discrimination against workers who are 40 years old or older. Different forms of age discrimination can include:

  • Discrimination in hiring, promotions, termination of employment, layoffs, and wages.
  • Statements regarding age preference or limitations, such as those in job descriptions or want ads.
  • Denial of benefits, such as retirement benefits, or reduced benefits for older workers.
  • Mandatory retirement in most industries and positions.

The ADEA applies to employers with 20 workers or more who are employed on a regular basis. The ADEA also includes the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), passed into law in 1990. The OWBPA prohibits age discrimination in specific ways, such as the following:

  • Targeting older workers in layoffs or staff reductions.
  • Not following certain procedures when asking older workers to waive their rights under the ADEA.
  • Using an employee’s age to discriminate against them.

In addition to the ADEA and OWPBA, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) protects against discrimination for employees who are 40 years old and over. Specifically, the PHRA prohibits certain practices of discrimination because of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, or national origin by employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and others. Despite these federal and state protections, older workers are still subject to discriminatory practices.

What are Examples of Age Discrimination in the Workplace?

Age discrimination in employment takes a variety of forms. Many times, the discrimination is not obvious or is cleverly hidden. Other times, an employer may not realize what they are doing is illegal, but that does not change an employee’s potential discrimination claim.

The following are examples of potential ageism at work:

  • Laying off older people with higher pay in cost-cutting efforts while keeping younger, less-experienced employees.
  • Firing or letting go of older workers just before they become eligible for pensions or other benefits.
  • Hiring a younger worker with fewer qualifications when an older person with better qualifications also applies for the position.
  • Promoting younger people in the workplace even though older employees have better experience.
  • Reducing an older employee’s hours, responsibilities, territories or work locations, travel, and other aspects of the position.
  • Hiring a younger person over an older person because of their appearance.
  • Negative performance reviews despite excellent performance or that imply age as a reason for the negative review.
  • Telling an older employee they need a college degree even though they have been doing the same work.
  • Requiring a physical exam for older workers but not younger workers.
  • Being offered a buy-out even though the company is hiring younger workers.

Every situation is different, and not all actions by an employer are age discrimination. Anyone who thinks they have been a victim of ageism should contact a discrimination attorney to discuss their experience.

How Do I Prove Age Discrimination in Pennsylvania?

Age discrimination can be difficult to prove. An employee must be at least 40 years of age to be protected under federal and state laws. Many age discrimination cases involve an older employee being treated less favorably than younger employees, but the employee does not have to be younger.

A large problem is that there is often a lack of direct evidence. For example, an employer would most likely not tell an older employee that they did not get a promotion because they were too old. Instead, an employee must often use indirect evidence to support their claim of age discrimination. Indirect evidence could include the use of statistics. For example, showing the employer’s track record in hiring, firing, promoting, or laying off people of a certain age. Also, showing evidence of age discrimination against other older employees might help a claim.

Under the law, a person with an age discrimination legal claim must demonstrate a but-for cause. For example, if any employee believes the company did not promote them because of their age, they must show that they would have been promoted otherwise. In an age discrimination claim, a prima facie case must also exist. This means the employee must show the following:

  • They are 40 years old or older or a member of a protected class.
  • They are qualified for their position and performed it adequately.
  • They suffered a negative career action, such as termination, demotion, failing to get a promotion, or being laid off first in a cost-cutting effort.
  • The circumstances infer discrimination. For example, a younger employee was treated more favorably.

Ageism can be difficult to prove, but an attorney can collect evidence and defend against an employer’s claims. Consult with one at the first sign or inkling of age discrimination.

What Should I Do if I Suspect Age Discrimination?

The first step is to contact a discrimination attorney. An attorney can advise the employee on what to record or collect in terms of evidence, what to look for and be aware of in the workplace, and counsel them on their rights and next steps. The next steps could include contacting the company’s Human Resources (HR) department and filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal employment discrimination laws.

It is also important for an employee who is still employed to document everything that happens and collect evidence that could be important. An employment discrimination attorney can guide them on this process. For those who are not employed or who feel they were not hired for a position because of their age, a consultation with an attorney is still recommended. There are time limits in an age discrimination case, so a victim must be sure to act accordingly.

Philadelphia Discrimination Attorneys at The Gold Law Firm P.C. Advocate for Older Employees in the Workplace

No one should endure ill effects on their health as a result of age discrimination in the workplace. Age discrimination is illegal, and anyone 40 years old and older is protected under state and federal laws. Age discrimination can be challenging to prove, even though it does happen at alarming rates. Consult with a Philadelphia discrimination attorney at The Gold Law Firm P.C. at the first sign of age discrimination. We will advocate for your rights. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.

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