Most of us, especially if we’ve ever hired anyone, know it’s illegal to discriminate against older people in the workplace. Many believe that means employers can’t ask a job applicant’s age.
In fact, that simple question — or asking when a person graduated from high school or college — is common on applications, and legal. Now Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the first state to outlaw the age question on applications, if a bill long in the works makes it over the goal line on the last day of the session.
Any hitch could kill it on the last day, but if it’s adopted into law, the measure would help reduce what we know is out there in abundance — barriers for people over a certain age landing jobs. Federal law protects people over 40 but we really start to see it over 50. And over 60? No question.
“Any time you can make it harder to discriminate, that’s a good thing,” said Sen. Derek Slap. D-West Hartford, the lead sponsor, who recognizes no law can stop the age-old practice of age profiling in job searches.
The bill passed the General Assembly’s labor committee by an 11-2 vote with some Republicans in favor. That’s a hint as to why it might eke its way through votes in the House and Senate, among thousands of bills that will die without a vote. With a slight tweak that a few Republicans requested — carving out exceptions for jobs in which state or federal rules set an age limit — some GOP lawmakers support it, including Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, who owns several restaurants, and Sen. Craig. Miner, R-Litchfield.
The bill would still allow employers to ask an applicant’s age in an interview, although employment law experts advise against it lest someone brings a complaint of discrimination. Business groups such as the Connecticut Business and Industry Association aren’t lobbying against it, supporters say.
It’s often dangerous for a state such as Connecticut to lead the way in a new form of business regulation if we have any hope of retaining a semblance or business-friendly claims. This one seems reasonable in part because it’s a common-sense offshoot of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (gotta love the Great Society and Warren Court era).
It would become part of a patchwork of case precedents and state and local laws. But, Slap points out, protections are eroding. He cited a recent case in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that only current employees, not prospective ones, are protected by the federal act.
A survey by AARP of 4,000 workers and job applicants 45 and over showed that “Nearly 45 percent of older job seekers were asked for age-related information such as their date of birth or graduation dates.” The survey showed widespread experience with age discrimination, said Nora Duncan, Connecticut state director of AARP.
“Age discrimination is real. Anyone who wants to join me with older job seekers in the community will hear it for themselves first hand,” Duncan said. “We are just trying to level the playing field some.”
Census data shows an increase of people working into their 70s, according to numerous news reports, for a variety of reasons. People are living longer and if they find rewarding work, they keep doing it; and of course, rising health costs and the demise of defined-benefit pensions means a lot of people have less of a choice to retire comfortably.
Between 1990 and 2016, Duncan said, the portion of the work force age 55 and over jumped from 12 percent to 22 percent — the effect of the baby boomers, around whom so much culture and legislation has revolved.
The bill was set for a House vote late Tuesday or Wednesday, where House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said it was on a list of likely bills — among many. From there, it would go to the Senate in the race to the midnight Wednesday deadline.