Former agents sue Farmers Insurance for age discrimination
- A group of former Farmers Insurance agents have sued the company, contending they were fired because of their age and that they were misclassified as independent contractors.
- In a statement released by their attorneys, 18 California-based plaintiffs said they were forced to give up their client bases. One agent alleged he was told that he was no longer meeting goals, that his 30-year book of clients would be moved to a younger agent and that his clients would be told he had retired. Another said he was originally told he could work until he chose to retire but was ultimately forced to give up his client base and "shut out" after 35 years as an agent. Another agent said he could "see that all the 'seasoned' agents were being sent termination notices" and their clients given to younger agents.
- The plaintiffs also alleged they were labeled incorrectly as independent contractors because Farmers controlled "nearly every aspect of their employment."
Although the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees and job applicants age 40 and older from workplace discrimination, employers still seem to miss the mark. Last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced it would target age discrimination in the workplace. Agency officials have called age discrimination employment's "open secret" because, they say, it's often considered more acceptable than other forms for discrimination.
Compliance with the ADEA can start with recruitment efforts. The Washington Post has reported, for example, that even with an economy so strong that there are more job openings than applicants, older workers still struggle to get hired. And even as more employers prioritize diversity and inclusion, many often fail to recognize that diversity efforts can include older workers. When writing job descriptions, recruiters and hiring managers will want to avoid terms such as "established" or "digital native," experts suggest. Those terms can communicate to job seekers that younger workers are more welcome than older ones. Describing the ideal candidate as "energetic" or a "recent college grad," or writing that the workplace is "fast-paced" can have a similar effect.
The places — both physical and digital — where employers advertise job openings can create problems, as well. While many seniors are technologically savvy, recruiting that leans heavily on social media efforts may attract mostly younger applicants. If recruiters focus their efforts on social media sites or college job fairs, they may unintentionally be discriminating against older workers, some say.
Furthermore, attorneys have recommended that employers treat workers protected by the ADEA much like they do those protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. When a worker struggles to get work done because of a disability, attorneys tell employers to say something like, "It seems like you're struggling to get your work done; what can we do to help?" Though the ADEA imposes no accommodation duty, employers can still ask employees how they can help them out, Eric B. Meyer, employment law attorney and blogger, has said. An older worker might reveal that she has a disability that does require an accommodation, or she might need some extra training to understand the most recent software update.