The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

February 28, 2014

Elders edged out or denied entry, Part 1

Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace.

Reader: My firm recently offered buyouts to administrative staff, none of whom is under 46 years old. We have heard that management would like to replace older employees with younger ones making $20,000 less. At a buyout meeting, management insisted salary was not an issue, while acknowledging our industry's market conditions.

I am wondering if I would gain any job security by offering to take a pay cut. I've heard employers would rather fire older workers than cut their salaries. But why would a company prefer to train new hires when it can find out who really wants to work here?

A: From your details about the buyout recipients' age and rumors about management's goals, I get the impression you're wondering if this is age discrimination. But it's "difficult to prove an age case," says employment attorney Elaine Fitch, of the Washington law firm Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch. Employers simply have to prove that personnel actions with a "disparate impact" on those 40 or older were based on some "reasonable factor other than age." A voluntary buyout to reduce costs would probably meet that standard.

In a Machiavellian way, I can see how companies would rather have desperate new workers than veterans forced to accept a salary cut, even though sacrificing institutional knowledge seems penny-wise and pound-foolish. And I doubt offering to take a pay cut would increase your job security. For now, make yourself indispensable — and start scouting other opportunities while in your current income bracket.

Reader: I understand that it is illegal for a prospective employer to ask someone's age or birth date, but what about a graduation date? That would also seem illegal because most people earn bachelor's degrees in their early 20s.

A: Er, hold up: It's not "illegal" to ask for ages or birth dates, just inadvisable, Fitch says. An employer may have valid reasons for asking, such as running credit checks. Similarly, an employer may want a graduation date to verify academic credentials.

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