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Why do researchers anticipate an increase in age discrimination claims in 2021?

2020 has been a difficult year for many industries, companies, and employees. To survive, businesses have had to layoff portions of their workforce or turn to other cost-cutting measures.

Unfortunately, history suggests that workers are not out of the woods yet. If this recession follows a similar trajectory to that of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, older workers (age 40+) may suffer from a flood of discriminatory actions in the upcoming months.

What can we learn from the Great Recession of 2008-2009? evaluated the number of workers filing age discrimination claims through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and how the Great Recession affected these statistics. Researchers found that the number of age discrimination claims trended with the unemployment rate, with both numbers peaking at the same time. At the height of the Great Recession, the EEOC received 24,000 age discrimination claims. By comparison, they received 15,573 age discrimination claims in 2019.

Currently, the unemployment rate for US workers age 65 and older is 2.5 times higher than it was during the 2008-2009 recession. These elevated numbers cause many researchers to predict that we will see another spike in age discrimination cases in the near future.

What qualifies as age discrimination?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers age 40-plus from discrimination based on their age. Workers can experience age discrimination during any phase, or in any aspect, of employment, including:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promotions/demotions/layoffs
  • Training/advancement opportunities
  • Benefits
  • Project assignments

To qualify as age-based discrimination, an employer must have treated an applicant or employee of age 40 or more less favorably because of his or her age. If the employer can point to a reasonable non-age-related factor for its action, the actions may not be considered discriminatory.

Older workers are at a disadvantage

In upcoming months, companies may look for additional cost-cutting opportunities by laying off workers, especially older workers. Older workers face a higher risk of being let go for several reasons, including:

  • They are more established in their careers and tend to have higher salaries than their younger colleagues
  • Employers may see older workers as more vulnerable to severe illness and hesitate to bring them back into the office
  • Older employers are wrongly presumed to be less tech-savvy and less able to adjust to changing business processes

When such reductions in force have a significantly greater impact on older workers (those 40 years or older), or are specifically targeted at older workers because of their age, they may give rise to good claims for age discrimination.

If so, it is important to hold companies accountable for their discrimination.


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