How Is COVID-19 Affecting Age Discrimination in the Workplace?

January 29, 2021

The phased reopening of the country’s operations meant that people could resume work following strict COVID-19 safety rules. However, with statistics showing older people are more likely to contract the virus, most employers’ concern for their employees may lead to age discrimination.

The CDC explains that adults over 65 years have a higher risk of becoming severely ill from the virus. Also, CDC stats show that 80% of COVID-19 deaths comprise people within this age group.

Even with such grim statistics, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits age discrimination against people 40 years and older. So what does it mean for employers? Should they dismiss older people to protect younger employees and avoid the health cost associated with tending to this age group? One of our Seattle Washington Employment Lawyers explains the dilemma.

What is Age Discrimination?

It involves treating an employee or applicant less favorably due to their age. The law prohibits any form of discrimination in employment when hiring, promoting employees. Under the Equality Act of 2010, employees must not be discriminated against because:

  • They haven’t attained a certain age or age group
  • Someone thinks you’re or aren’t a specific age group; also referred to as discrimination by perception
  • You’re connected to somebody in a specific age or age group; also referred to as discrimination by association

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act also addresses this issue by forbidding age discrimination against people who are 40 years and older. This means it doesn’t protect employees under the age of 40, although some states have laws protecting younger employees from age discrimination.


Employment lawyers in Seattle Washington explain that age discrimination can occur in different forms:

  1. Direct discrimination: It happens when an employer treats an employee worse than other people in a similar situation due to age. For example, when an employee refuses to provide training to an employee because they’re regarded too old but allow young colleagues to go for the training
  2. Indirect discrimination: It happens when an organization has a policy that applies to all employees except people of a particular age or age group. For example, a company has a policy to promote employees with post-graduate qualification only. This means younger employees are less likely to be promoted because they are less likely to have that qualification
  3. Harassment: It occurs when an employee is humiliated, degraded, or offended due to age. For example, during a training workshop, a trainer may keep on commenting how slow an employee is at learning new technology due to their age

How COVID is Affecting Age Discrimination at Work

Given the high unemployment rates in the country, older workers don’t have the luxury of leaving employment to avoid contracting or spreading the virus. Also, it’s more difficult for older employees to find employment in the modern job market.

Even with this sad predicament, companies are still laying off older employees to reduce COVID-19 related costs. Many Seattle Washington Employment Attorneys are already dealing with ageism-related lawsuits over layoffs.

One such case is a 62-year-old Mark who sued Shearman & Sterling for laying him off due to his age. This is illegal because the law prohibits companies from playing doctors. While the CDC and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have issued guidance on creating safe working spaces, companies must adhere to existing state and federal labor laws.

How a Seattle Employment Lawyer Can Help

If you’re one of those employees facing age discrimination, enlist the help of an employee attorney Seattle at Albert Law PLLC firm. Our employment attorneys in Seattle Washington are well-versed in this area, having dealt with numerous cases in employment law.