As if it weren't bad enough to lose your job because of job discrimination, research shows that it can adversely affect your health as well.
According to a study conducted by the Florida State College of Medicine, individuals who believe that they have suffered age discrimination also suffer poorer health. The impact of age discrimination on health has shown to be worse than even the impact of perceived racism or sexism. The research, from the Florida State University College of Medicine, grew out of a study measuring changes in health over a four-year period that was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Researchers looked at health records for more than 6,000 adults between the years of 2006 and 2010. The participants reported their physical, emotional and cognitive health during this period. They also reported their perceptions of age discrimination during this period. The results indicated that those who perceived that they suffered age discrimination fared worse physically and emotionally than those who did not suffer from discrimination. The study found that other forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sex, race, or sexual orientation did not impact health in later years.
The studies show that individuals who suffer from age discrimination may suffer more negative health consequences that other fixed characteristics, such as sex or race. The most significant repercussion of this discrimination was a greater feeling of loneliness which also led to other unhealthy behaviors, including depression, insomnia and cardiovascular risks. Suicide was also a greater risk for individuals who suffered from perceived age discrimination.
Age discrimination is illegal. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) an employer is prohibited from making employment decisions based on the age of the employee as opposed to the employee's job performance or the merits of the situation.
Employees over the age of 40 who work for a covered employer are protected by the ADEA. As with all laws, there are exceptions in the statute to this simple rule:
- Executives or other employees in "high policy-making positions" may be forced to retire at the age of 65, provided they are paid $44,000.00 or more in retirement pension benefits.
- Law enforcement and fire personnel, if certain specific conditions are met; tenured university faculty; and certain federal employees in law enforcement and air traffic control.
If an employer can prove that age is an essential qualification of a job or a "bona fide occupational qualification" (BFOQ), then the employer can use age as a basis for discrimination.
How do you prove your case? The elements of proof will vary depending on the exact factual circumstances. Generally, there are two types of proof of age discrimination. The first is direct evidence of the employer's discriminatory intent. This type of evidence is very rare, but usually takes the form of oral statements that the employee is "too old" or "there is too much white hair in this company." Once the employee has shown direct evidence of age discrimination, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to prove that it would have taken the adverse action even without the discriminatory intent.
In most cases, however, the employee does not have direct evidence and must rely on indirect, or circumstantial, evidence. In this type of situation, an employee has a valid claim for age discrimination if he can prove:
- was over 40 years of age (a member of the protected class) at the time of the adverse employment action;
- was an employee of the employer at the time of the adverse employment action;
- was subject to an adverse employment action; and
- has been treated differently than younger workers. In the case of a termination, the worker must be replaced by a younger worker.
If an employee can make this initial showing, often very easy to do, then the employer must show that it has a non-discriminatory reason for the action. In other words, the employer must show it took the action for a reason other than the employee's age. If the employer can demonstrate this non-discriminatory reason for the action, the burden of proof shifts back to the employee to prove that the employer's stated reason is a mere pretext.
The following list provides a sketch of the kinds of characteristics common to meritorious ADEA claims:
- Long-term employee, 15 or more years of seniority;
- Highly compensated;
- Replaced with significantly junior worker;
- Employee has good or excellent performance reviews;
- Employee has good or excellent prior disciplinary record;
- Employer cannot articulate specific reason for adverse employment action;
- Employee received recent uncharacteristic discipline shortly before termination;
- A new supervisor or manager;
- Supervisor or Management indicate a prejudice against older workers or older workers' ability to perform based solely on age.