Monday, June 15, 2020

Coronavirus Update 6–15–2020: COVID-19 is not an excuse for age discrimination

Consider these headlines:

While there's still a lot we don't know about COVID-19, one of the things we do know for sure is that is much more greatly impacts people age 65 and above

Indeed, according to the CDC, 80.6 percent of all coronavirus deaths are in that age bracket. These fatality rates might explain why you might want to protect your older workers by forbidding them to come into work or by placing them on leaves absence.

Here's the thing, however. Employment discrimination laws hate paternalism. While you might be acting from a place of good intentions to protect your older workers from a potentially deadly exposure of COVID-19 by keeping them away from the workplace, that's not your choice to make. Only the employee can make that choice. 

The EEOC confirmed this guidance in an updated FAQ on COVID-19 and antidiscrimination laws it published late last week.

The ADEA would prohibit a covered employer from involuntarily excluding an individual from the workplace based on his or her being 65 or older, even if the employer acted for benevolent reasons such as protecting the employee due to higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Unlike the ADA, the ADEA does not include a right to reasonable accommodation for older workers due to age. However, employers are free to provide flexibility to workers age 65 and older; the ADEA does not prohibit this, even if it results in younger workers ages 40-64 being treated less favorably based on age in comparison.

If you force older workers to stay away (even if it's for their own protection), you are almost certainly committing age discrimination. Their health; their choice. Don't make it for them.