The state Senate voted Wednesday to deter age discrimination by preventing employers from asking a prospective candidate for their date of birth or graduation dates on job applications.
The bipartisan measure was passed unanimously, and lawmakers said that it would have passed last year if the General Assembly session had not been short-circuited by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Derek Slap, a West Hartford Democrat, worked for three years on the bill in a state where the workforce is aging.
“It’s extremely important because we are in Connecticut, and we have the sixth-oldest workforce in the nation,” Slap said on the Senate floor. “When I talk about older workers, anyone age 40 or over is in a protected class. … We want our older workers to get a fair shake.”
The state has 436,000 workers in their mid-50s at a time when the workforce is changing. Currently, 26.5% of Connecticut workers are over the age of 54, which is a sharp jump from 20% of workers in 2008. The leading industries for older employees are health care, manufacturing, education and retail.
AARP reported in 2018 that 60% of older workers had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, and 76% saw age discrimination as a factor in gaining employment, Slap said. Many older employees are forced to continue working because they have no traditional pension or retirement savings.
“Age discrimination is rampant in our society and rampant in employment decisions,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat who is 72. “Often there are people with relevant experience … who are bypassed because of the arbitrary position about age.”
The bill provides exceptions for the employer if there is “a bona fide occupational qualification or need” to know the applicant’s age “or if it is required by state or federal law, according to a legislative bill analysis. The measure covers employers with at least three workers.
The measure comes following approval of a pay equity law that took effect in 2019 and prohibits employers from asking prospective employees about their pay history.
“I have heard too many people tell me that they have lost out on job opportunities … because of their age,” said Senate Republican leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford. “It’s most unfortunate, in this day and age, that this still persists.”
Some employers, Kelly said, fail to realize that older workers have “immense experience, insight and wisdom” for the job.
In other matters, the Senate also voted unanimously in favor of a bipartisan bill that would improve safety around ice cream trucks following a tragic accident last year.
The bill requires ice cream truck owners to install safety equipment that includes flashing lights, caution signs, signal arms and front convex mirrors. It would also prohibit ice cream sellers from stopping in high-traffic areas.
The legislation was prompted by the experience of the family of 10-year-old Tristan Barhorst of Wallingford, who was struck and killed by a car after heading to an ice cream truck in Cheshire. On a summer day on the last day of school on June 12, 2020, Barhorst and his friends headed toward the truck when they heard the jingle in their neighborhood. As the first child in line, Tristan purchased a SpongeBob SquarePants pop.
But when he was heading back home, a Jeep Wrangler driven by a 17-year-old struck and killed him.
Sen. Will Haskell, a Westport Democrat, thanked the “unbelievably brave and unbelievably compassionate parents” of Tristan, who advocated for the bill’s passage.
“Hopefully, we can prevent further loss,” Haskell said on the Senate floor. “This is one of those special days in the legislature when we can be proud that our government is responding in a bipartisan way. ... I’m thinking about Tristan and all those young people as I cast my vote in favor of this legislation.”
The measure passed by a 33-0 vote with three senators absent.
Sen. Saud Anwar, a South Windsor Democrat who is also a medical doctor, said lawmakers are “hoping to be able to protect children in the future.’'
Sen. Paul Cicarella, a North Haven Republican, said the bill “could possibly save other children.’'
“Connecticut is one of the few surrounding states that did not have any real regulations to protect the children,” Cicarella said. “Out of such a terrible accident, good can come of it.”
Christopher Keating can be reached at email@example.com