Older Workers Are at Greater Risk from Covid-19
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on all aspects of our lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”), older workers face a unique challenge. Data compiled by the CDC indicates that people 65 and older are at significantly greater risk for severe complications from the virus.
With the plethora of competing rules governing the workplace, it is difficult to ascertain what additional protections, if any, are in place for workers during the pandemic. What is or is not appropriate in the workplace during the pandemic is governed by Connecticut state and federal workplace laws, state and federal orders, CDC guidelines and other administrative guidance.
In addition to existing laws governing the workplace, employers are now tasked with trying to prevent or slow the spread of the virus in the workplace. Part of this responsibility includes addressing COVID-19 accommodation requests.
Given that the older population is at greater risk for severe complications resulting from the contraction of COVID-19, some older workers may be fearful of going to work and may feel they should be given an accommodation.
Older Workers are not Entitled to Workplace Accommodations Solely Based on Age
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made it clear in their guidance on COVID-19 that employers are not required to make accommodations for older workers based on their age alone. If an individual does not have an impairment and is simply fearful of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace due to their age, then the issue does not fall within the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the employer does not need to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee or make a reasonable accommodation for the employee.
Employers Cannot Discriminate Against Older Workers and Must Apply Their Policies Uniformly
Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 employers may not, however, discriminate against workers 40 and above in the terms and conditions of employment. If an employer provides accommodations to other employees due to their fear of contracting COVID-19, such as allowing them to work remotely, the employer may not deny an older employee the same accommodation.