Think Thoughtfully Before Terminating Older Staff Members

A former housekeeper sued a singer and alleged age discrimination. The housekeeper, who is more than 60 years old, alleges the singer's team terminated her in February 2022 because the singer did not want an "older housekeeper."

The former housekeeper, who made $125 per day, is also suing to recover back pay. She also alleges she was not given legally-required break periods throughout the duration of her employment and was not paid for her final two days of work.

The plaintiff is seeking more than $250,000 in damages. Nicki Gostin "Brandy being sued by former housekeeper alleging age discrimination" (Mar. 26, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

Age discrimination against applicants and workers age 40 or older is prohibited under federal law for employers with 20 or more employees. State laws, however, often apply to smaller employers, and some provide discrimination protections for those younger than 40.

Age discrimination claims can be avoided by carefully evaluating a situation and by examining the strengths and weaknesses of an older staff member. It is especially important, before terminating an older staff member, to consider how an older staff member’s strengths, especially experience and loyalty, may outweigh the weaknesses.

Here are some additional guidelines family employers should follow to help prevent claims of age discrimination:

  • Know your state and other local laws governing age discrimination.
  • Develop an age discrimination policy that includes a complaint procedure.
  • Provide information on your policy and procedures to all staff and managers annually and have them acknowledge receipt of the policy.
  • Train all supervisors annually on what constitutes age discrimination, the risks associated with it, and how to prevent it.
  • Make it clear to your managers and supervisors that no age-related comments will be tolerated in the workplace. An "innocent" or "teasing" remark can end up as evidence in a trial.
  • Follow your policy and procedures and thoroughly investigate any complaints of age discrimination.
  • Carefully analyze your reasons for terminating or laying off an older staff member to make sure they are legal and justified. Perform all terminations in a legal manner.
  • Document and support all adverse employment action taken against an older individual, including failure to hire, termination, and failure to promote, with adequate paperwork showing there was a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason.
  • Seek the advice of an attorney before implementing any new age-related policies.
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