The Elder Law Forum

The Elder Law Forum by Professor Michael Myers Editor's Note: The Elder Law Forum is a public service of the University of South Dakota School of Law, an extension of the SENIOR LEGAL HOTLINE available at no cost to persons 60 and older at 605-677-6343 and during regular business hours. The Elder Law Forum delivers information and educational material by radio, a weekly newspaper column, and Law School research papers placed on the USD School of Law Web site. Professor Myers teaches Elder Law at the School of Law.

"Brutal" Job Market

for Older Workers

Company rhetoric proclaiming "employee empowerment" notwithstanding, the current job market for older workers can be � and often is � brutal.

"We value our older, long-time employees," contended the human resources spokesperson for Sitel Corporation, a global provider of outsourced customer support services that employs more than 31,000 employees in 82 global contact centers.

We were engaged in a telephonic labor department hearing during which Sitel was resisting the payment of unemployment compensation benefits to my USD Senior Helpline client, a 66-year-old woman who had worked at Sitel for 12 years and had been summarily terminated for what Sitel characterized as "misconduct."

The so-called "misconduct" consisted of asking a woman to call back because a screaming child in the background made it impossible to carry on a reasonable discussion over the telephone. Sitel employees spend their day trying to appease people who are unhappy or angry about a product or service. It's called "customer service."

This customer had a legitimate complaint. She had paid off her Capitol One credit card but continued to receive billings from a Capitol One-affiliate for a "protection plan" feature she naively accepted when she used the card. "You must contact that company directly to cancel the protection plan," my client was trained to say.

We had an angry mother, a screaming child, a static-filled phone, and an older worker who planned to work until she was 70. The next day she was unemployed, on the street, and confronted by a lawyer who specializes in contesting unemployment benefit claims.

I asked the Sitel human resources representative if she had read any of my client's performance evaluations.

"No," she responded. I asked the shift supervisor the same question. "No," she answered.

So, there you have it: Twelve years on the job. Twelve good performance evaluations. Thousands upon thousands of telephone calls. A wage of $10.16 per hour. An age 70 retirement target. All forfeited because, as my client lamented, "my supervisor was overheard to have said she wanted to get rid of me."

It doesn't take much in an employment-at-will state where the hourly worker has little legal protection. It can be, and often is � in a word � brutal.

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