Legal Corner

An age-old problem

Many roofing contractors often are unsure of whether an employment decision complies with the law. One particular concern that faces roofing contractors as aging employees slide into their 50s is whether taking an employment action against an older employee will lead to an age-discrimination lawsuit. However, such a concern often is unfounded and stems from the fact that many roofing contractors do not possess the necessary knowledge and understanding of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

The law

ADEA, which was enacted in 1967, applies to all employers with 20 or more employees. ADEA prohibits these employers from discriminating against employees in terms, privileges and conditions of employment on the basis of age. Those workers who are 40 years old or older fall into the protected class. Although employers with fewer than 20 employees are not covered by ADEA, they are not immune from liability for age discrimination because employees still may file tort claims, such as for wrongful discharge or intentional infliction of emotional distress, if they believe they are victims of age discrimination.

Age discrimination can take many forms. It can consist of age-related comments made by managers or executives accompanied by some type of adverse employment action or decision, such as a failure to grant a promotion, less-than-favorable employment conditions or disciplinary proceedings. Age discrimination also may consist of a pattern by which older workers are treated differently. Or such discrimination may consist of an older worker being selected to be laid-off while younger employees with less experience are retained. The key to determining whether ADEA has been violated is whether comments about age or age-discriminatory actions were the reason or part of the reason for an adverse employment action.