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Age Discrimination in the Workplace

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Harold had been with the company going on forty-five years. There was no doubt that his contributions over the past few decades helped the once intimate business flourish into an international corporation. As his sixty-fifth birthday rolled around, Harold was greeted with a staff party and a mandatory retirement notice that was effective two weeks from that date. Harold was stunned, inasmuch as he had no intentions whatsoever to leave his position with the company; indeed, he was still fully able to complete his duties better than any new hire ever could, not to mention the fact that his attendance record was spotless. Needless to say, Harold was completely taken aback with the discovery that his company loyalty was cast aside in order to accommodate a younger workforce.

Age discrimination has become more than a minor inconvenience throughout the twentieth century; indeed, the issue has become such a hot potato within the workplace that laws have been forced into existence as a means by which to address the problem. In order to help protect those who stand to be singled out and let go because of the unfairness of ageism, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was designed with the older employee in mind.

The issue at hand constitutes that companies are not willing to look beyond their aging workforce, choosing instead to push them out of the technological loop rather than attempting to incorporate them as valuable assets. "There is enough research that says older workers are dependable, they can change, they can learn. What we haven' t come to grips with is that research and management practice are not always related" (Capowski, 1994, p. 10).


The most powerful law that was designed as a means by which protect people from age discrimination is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) establishing that no person age forty or older can be discriminated against in any area of employment. Once under the auspices of the 1964 Civil Rights Act but soon realizing an individuality of its own, the scope of the ADEA's protection is quite far-reaching in that not only does it broadly guard against age discrimination, but it also helps to protect favoritism between and among those in similar age groups. However, of all the issues surrounding age discrimination that the 1967 law addresses, none is more heated than that of mandatory retirement. When gathering the effects of the ADEA's shield, it is important for the student to consider the act that a small population is exempt from this protection are those who are "bona fide executives or in high policymaking positions and are at least 65 years of age, have held their position for two years immediately preceding retirement, and are entitled to retirement income of at least $44,000 exclusive of social security" (Nobile, 1996, p. 38). The ADEA has recognized the fact that there cannot be a blanket resolution throughout the entire workforce without some industries taking unnecessary risks due to older employees. The airline industry is just one area where age plays a critical role in the safety of passengers; as such, pilots are still required to retire at age sixty. However, this exemption applies to only a very small portion of the overall workforce, particularly when there is no specific prerequisite to carrying out an individual's job description. "Employers just can't assume someone can't do the job as well because he or she is older. So it's less a law based on protection of members of a class than to protect individuals from common conceptions about characteristics of the group in general" (Flynn, 1997, p. 105).


What the ADEA represents to the issues of personnel function, selection and development in education is a sense of consistency when it comes to addressing the employment needs of older workers. Employers allowed to choose or reject employees based solely upon their age, unless the job description is of a physical nature that would otherwise pose difficulties for the senior worker. The fact that an older employee can perform the exact same function as a younger, lesser paid employer precludes personnel selection to lay off or retire a worker based merely on age; indeed, older employees are quite able to utilize new technology if they are given proper training and education. "Employers still need to be certain that decisions aren't being made on the basis of stereotypes. Even though the company wouldn't do that, it doesn't mean that some individual managers might not be doing that. In a layoff situation, HR will have to be very certain the criteria for selection are neutral and not discriminatory" (Flynn, 1997, p. 105). There are those within the industry who contend that the ADEA's restrictions are not actually at all beneficial to the older recipients. Critics of the law claim that there cannot be one singular method of legal protection to address all the myriad discrimination issues that are inherent to age; their point is that by doing so, it ultimately turns out to hinder the older age groups as opposed to the desire to help them. "The broad use of anti-discrimination law to address the problem of aging in employment without accounting for the differences between classic claims of discrimination and the particular problems faced by older employees has resulted in a dramatic and unjustified shift in wealth toward older Americans" (Issacharoff et al, 1997, pp. 780-840).

Mandatory retirement is one of the key issues supported by the ADEA. One of the sticking points with mandatory retirement is the fact. That it repeatedly has little if anything to do with the person's job performance. That an employee has devoted twenty-five years of his life to the company typically means that his pay scale is considerably higher than those who are just entering the job field. "Older workers are quite productive but their higher salaries make them targets during downsizing" (Worsnop, 1997, p. 675). It is important for the student to consider the fact that from the company's point of view, it does not make good business sense to pay this employee considerably more than they can get away with paying for a newer hire, in spite of the loyalty displayed by the tenured employee during the past twenty-five years. "Such an action, however could constitute age discrimination, particularly if it has a disparate impact on older workers" (Nobile, 1996, p. 38).

"The disturbing trend



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