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House Votes to Protect Older Job Applicants From Discrimination

In recent years, court rulings have weakened federal age bias laws

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A bill that that would better protect older Americans from age discrimination in the hiring process passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 4 by a vote of 224 to 200.

The Protect Older Job Applicants Act would amend the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to specifically prohibit employers from limiting, segregating or classifying job applicants based on their ages. In recent years, court decisions have weakened the protections the ADEA provides, with some rulings asserting that the law does not explicitly protect job applicants.

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“Age discrimination in the workplace — against older workers or others — is never acceptable,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Americans age 55 and up experience long-term unemployment at a higher rate compared to younger job seekers, and age discrimination makes it harder for older workers to find new jobs or return to the workforce. This bill to restore Age Discrimination in Employment Act protections to job applicants will help provide a level playing field for older workers when applying for a job.”

An AARP survey this year found that 78 percent of older workers say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace and that 96 percent of older workers think laws to combat age discrimination should be stronger.

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The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. Recent federal legislative proposals to restore protections against age bias on the job, such as the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA), have so far failed to be voted on in that chamber.

But at least two states have recently enacted laws that combat age bias. This year, the Connecticut legislature enacted a bipartisan law that makes it illegal for employers to ask applicants questions such as when they were born or when they graduated from high school, queries that the federal ADEA does not specifically prohibit. And New Jersey passed a bill with strong bipartisan support that eliminates language in state law that made it possible for employers to refuse to hire or promote people age 70 and older.

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