Understanding Older Adults’ Civil Rights

Older adults have long been a vulnerable segment of the population. The most recent (and most public) displays of disrespect for the elderly have been showcased through a variety of exposés written about injustices that have happened within nursing homes across the country. It’s not just several nursing homes that are guilty of taking advantage of seniors—older adults have faced age discrimination in the workplace, financial abuse, and neglect or abandonment at home.

Although bad actors will always exist, there are laws that keep seniors protected from harm across a variety of disciplines, as well as enhance their civil rights. Here are a few you should know about:

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

This United States labor law was passed in 1967 as a means to protect the rights of workers over the age of 40. Although there was also sweeping legislation passed in 1964 that aimed to protect the civil rights of Americans in the workplace, age was not explicitly covered in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, so the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) served to widen the scope to include ageism as a form of prohibited discrimination when it came to hiring practices. In addition, the ADEA prevents the denial of benefits to older employees, as well as discrimination in regards to wages and layoffs. This law was amended in 1986 to include a provision against mandatory retirement for workers.

Older Americans Act

The Older Americans Act (OAA) was voted into law in 1965, in an effort to set aside funding earmarked to support the needs of an aging population. The OAA actually helped establish a federal Administration on Aging and the Area Agencies on Aging on a local level, all of which serve as a network of valuable resources for elderly adults. Among the resources that are funded by this legislation are Meals on Wheels, free transportation services, adult day care services, and access to respite care for caregivers.

Elder Justice Act

Passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, “ the Elder Justice Act (EJA) was the first piece of federal legislation passed to authorize a specific source of federal funds to address elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.” The EJA authorizes $400 million ($100 million per year) for Adult Protective Services to provide older Americans residing in long-term care facilities with greater protections. The law also authorizes funding for grants to support the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and enhance long-term care staffing through training and recruitment incentives for individuals.

Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act was passed in 2017 as a way to establish “requirements for the Department of Justice (DOJ) with respect to investigating and prosecuting elder abuse crimes and enforcing elder abuse laws.” Specifically, the law requires that the DOJ establish best practices for data collection on elder abuse and expands the criminal code to include telemarketing fraud. Seniors are often a big target of telemarketing scams , and this law specifically states that someone who is “convicted of telemarketing or email marketing fraud that targets or victimizes a person over age 55 is subject to an enhanced criminal penalty and mandatory forfeiture.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing any sort of discrimination, harassment, abuse or neglect as a result of age, don’t hesitate to report it to your local authorities. Thanks to the EJA, there are local Adult Protective Services chapters in every state, so don’t be afraid to report bad behavior if you see it or experience it.

Hilary Young Author

Hilary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.

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