April 3rd, 2013

Social media, smartphones and other technology-driven communication innovations have definitely been embraced by youth culture in Minnesota and across the country. There have also been several notable examples of very young inventors who developed a web-based service or product that eventually became a hugely profitable business. Facebook is one such example.

However, older workers shouldn’t be excluded from the tech industry simply because that industry’s consumer base is often young. In fact, middle-aged workers may have industry experience that can prove invaluable, even in startups.

Unfortunately, a recent industry commentator reports that there is bias toward older employees in the engineering field — and by older, the speaker was referring to employees in the age range of 35 or older. The speaker, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, says one of the reasons might be financial. Younger employees may accept a starting salary below the average for an industry.

Older employees who are told by management that they are being laid off due to downsizing may wonder what rights are available to them under the law. For starters, a federal law — the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 — considers workers who are 40 and older to belong to a protected class based on age. However, the ADEA only applies to employers who meet a minimum size requirement: twenty or more employees on a daily basis for at least 20 work weeks in a given calendar year. As a result, it’s possible that the ADEA might not apply to very small startup companies.

Minnesota law, fortunately, offers broader age discrimination protections. As a preliminary matter, the Minnesota Human Rights Act may apply to employers with only a single employee.

Source: minnesota.publicradio.org, “Older engineers battle age discrimination,” Tom Weber, April 2, 2013.

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