Baby Boomers – An Aging Workforce

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The term “baby boomer” has been tossed around quite a bit over the past decade.  It refers to the huge spike in the U.S. birth rate between 1946 and 1964.  The reason why it’s been on everyone’s mind since 2000 is because we’re concerned about how it will impact the economy as they age.  When our economy was booming in the late 90’s from technology, this generation of Americans couldn’t be happier with the size of their retirement accounts.  Many management experts felt worried that the mass exodus of baby boomers would hinder our ability to compete because of the massive loss in experienced and knowledgeable workers.

The current economic climate has flipped the mass exodus theory upside down.  Many baby boomers are now at risk of not being able to retire because of the losses in their retirement accounts, the collapse of companies and their pension plans, or perhaps they made some bad real estate decisions.  Whatever the reason, they are not leaving, but staying longer in the workforce.  This puts a huge burden on management because they now have to decide whether to keep the experienced highly paid employee or the hard working college student willing to do it for half the price.  Unfortunately, these decisions, if handled improperly could lead companies down a very dangerous path.  One where they are inundated with lawsuits of age discrimination.

According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), you cannot discriminate against individuals 40 years or older.  This covers areas like hiring, firing, training, promotion, compensation, etc…  However, this federal law only applies to companies who have 20 or more employees, local, state, and federal entities.  It’s true purpose is to push managers to weigh their decisions more on the performance of an employee.

If someone files a complaint regarding a violation of ADEA, representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are dispatched to investigate.  If a violation is found, the EEOC would act as a mediator between the employee and company.  If a compromise cannot be met, the employee has 3 months to file his/her lawsuit.  Almost every large corporation knows to check with human resources and legal departments before making big decisions on things such as mass layoffs.

Regarding jobs like lawyers or doctors, we need to keep the older workforce as long as possible.  When it comes to physically intensive jobs like Law Enforcement or Firemen, they are less likely able to meet the physical demands.  We can discuss the many pros and cons of laying off  older employees indefinitely.  However, at the end of the day, management’s responsibility is to represent their company and it’s interests within the confines of the law.

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