These are uncertain times for both West Virginia employers and workers. Despite the recent surge in coronavirus infections, many businesses want to reopen. Most workers want to return to their jobs, but some of them want to wear masks and practice social distancing, and others are opposed.
Of course, it’s understandable that employers are wary of having an outbreak of Covid-19 among employees. Some employers who take steps to protect workers might inadvertently discriminate against older employees, while other employers might use the pandemic as an excuse to rid their workforce of older, more expensive employees.
Defining age discrimination
The federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that age discrimination involves a business treating “employee less favorably because of his or her age.” The EEOC notes that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects workers who are age 40 or older from age discrimination.
The ADEA bans age discrimination in:
- Job assignments
Examples of age discrimination
Employers can make a wide variety of decisions regarding the pandemic that could involve unlawful discrimination:
- Furloughing older workers while allowing younger employees to continue working
- Requiring only older employees to wear PPE (personal protective equipment)
- Firing older workers due to potential insurance rate hikes or paid time-off costs
Some employers also use marginalization tactics to try get older workers to quit. Marginalization can include such things as not inviting an older worker to meetings; assigning the person less important and less meaningful tasks; and isolating the person by stationing them away from other employees to reduce personal interaction and company involvement.
A recent Forbes article pointed out that the ADEA doesn’t allow employers to retaliate against an employee who files a complaint of age discrimination. However, the law applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees.
Filing an age discrimination lawsuit
Of course, workplace rights are only meaningful when enforced. Workers who have been subjected to unlawful age discrimination can with the help of an employment law attorney obtain:
- Lost wages
- Attorney fees and court costs
- Other appropriate relief, such as reinstatement, promotion, pay raise, etc.
The first step in protecting your rights is to speak with a Charleston lawyer experienced in employment law litigation.