We all know the health insurance reality: Most employer-provided health insurance plans base premiums in part on the average age of the insured employees. At most organizations, more older workers means higher health insurance premiums.
The competing reality is that federal and state age discrimination laws say employers can’t terminate or refuse to hire older employees based on their age. Nor can they base employment decisions based on higher age-related benefits costs.
That’s why you must remind all managers and supervisors to keep any thoughts on insurance costs to themselves. If older employees end up being disproportionally affected by a reduction in force, any comments on insuring older employees may come back to haunt you.
Recent case: Dennis Brady had worked for International Metal Hose since 1971. He was terminated at age 55 during what the company said was a reduction in force. Brady was a supervisor, and the company had recently hired three additional supervisors in the run-up to an anticipated strike.
When the strike didn’t materialize, the company reduced the number of supervisors and terminated Brady, plus one of the other recent hires.
During union negotiations, the plant manager commented that older workers drove up health care costs. When Brady heard about the comment, he sued for age discrimination.
The court said he could use the plant manager’s statements about insurance costs to try to persuade a jury his firing was motivated by a desire to get rid of older employees. (Brady v. International Metal Hose, No. 3:07-CV-3806, ND OH, 2008)
Final note: The court also said that the plant manager could be held personally liable under Ohio law for age discrimination. The plant manager was the one who fired Brady.
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