Age Discrimination and COVID-19

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Question

We recently hired an older individual whose start date is next Monday, but I would like to push back their start date because we’ve just had an employee test positive for COVID-19. Would this be allowed? We will be testing everyone in the workplace, but I know older employees may be at higher risk.

Answer

You will need to tread carefully here. Pushing back an employee’s start date because of their age would be a clear case of age discrimination, even if you’re operating with the best of intentions. Age discrimination is illegal under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and a similar state law may apply as well. It’s also generally inadvisable to make assumptions about employees based on their age as these assumptions can lead you to treat employees differently based on their age, risking the loss of trust, hurt feelings, and discrimination claims.

What you can do is explain the situation to any new hires who haven’t started yet and ask them what they’d like to do.

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