Age Discrimination and COVID-19 Layoffs

The spread of COVID-19 has profoundly impacted U.S. businesses and the workforce; sweeping furloughs, layoffs, and terminations that have cost over 30 million workers their jobs. While a reduction may be necessary for many businesses, an employer may not discriminate against any individual when deciding whom to lay off. Unfortunately, age discrimination against persons age 40 and over (considered a protected class) has recently play a role in employer’s reductions of force. 


Uncovering the reasons why an employee was let go, as well as understanding employer obligations, are the first steps in discovering if age discrimination played a part in their termination.


Signs of Age Discrimination


Age discrimination can occur in overt ways, i.e. a large number of older employees are let go all at once. It can also occur in much more subtle ways, such as a higher up stating that laid-off employees were nearing retirement. If a small scale layoff affects more younger employees than older ones, and younger employees are promoted to fill the open positions, there might be a case for discrimination. Other signs of workplace age discrimination include management placing new and unreasonable demands on older workers or giving them negative performance reviews after years of positive ones. If any of these apply to a worker’s current situation, they might be a victim of age discrimination, rather than a layoff reduction of force caused by COVID-19. However, shelter-in-place orders have complicated matters; it has yet to be seen whether employees 65 and up who are prevented from working due to age will be considered victims of discrimination.


Employer Obligations to the Protected Class


The Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967 protects employees and job applicants age 40 and older in all aspects of employment. It applies to employees of companies with 20 or more employees, labor organizations with 25 or more members, the federal government, and state and local governments (with some exceptions).


Under ADEA, employers cannot retaliate against employees should they file charges of age discrimination or help in a related investigation. Employers are not allowed to fire someone due to age or force them to retire. The law also prevents employers from creating policies that disproportionately impact the protected class.


How to Combat Age Discrimination


Any individual who believes they are being discriminated against due to age – through COVID-19 layoffs or otherwise – must save documents, comments, or situations that suggest wrongdoing and bring these documents to an attorney specializing in employment law.


If you believe you’ve been wrongly let go due to age discrimination, our attorneys at Gokal Law are here to help. Contact us or give us a call at 949 753 9100 to speak with our team about your situation.

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