AARP has endorsed bipartisan legislation in Congress that would strengthen protections against age discrimination in the workplace.
The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) legislation that was introduced this week has been a goal of advocates for older Americans for more than a decade. The bill was first introduced, with AARP backing, after an adverse 2009 Supreme Court decision made it more difficult for older workers to prove claims of illegal bias based on age. POWADA would restore the long-standing protections workers age 40 and older had received under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) by resetting the standard to what it was before that 2009 ruling.
"The introduction of this bill is a crucial step to strengthening the law and restoring fairness for older workers who experience age discrimination,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer in a statement. “It sends a clear message that discrimination in the workplace — against older workers or others — is never acceptable."
The legislation is being considered during a particularly challenging moment for older workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused high unemployment across all age groups, causing many older Americans to weigh their need to earn money against the possible risks to their health. Unemployment for workers age 55 and older more than doubled between February 2020 and this February, based on an AARP Public Policy Institute analysis of federal data.
"Distressingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified age discrimination,” AARP Foundation Senior Attorney Laurie McCann said during a March 18 congressional hearing about the bill. “High and persistent unemployment, compounded by the health risks of COVID-19, threatens the retirement security of older workers."
The House of Representatives previously passed the POWADA bill with bipartisan support in January 2020, but the Senate never voted on it during the previous session of Congress. The legislation re-introduced this month is the same version as the House passed last year but must be voted on again. A companion bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate on March 22.