Christine-Malafi-9-620x330By Jacqueline Birzon, Long Island Business News

State lawmakers will once again try to prevent older residents from leaving the state, pushing a bill in Albany that would create a tax incentive program to reward small businesses that hire more experienced workers.

Under the terms of the bill, companies with fewer than 100 employees that hire people age 55 or older would receive a tax credit ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 per year per eligible employee. The bill mirrors a similar tax incentive the state offers to businesses that hire individuals with developmental disabilities.

While New York State Human Rights Law protects workers over the age of 18 from age-based discrimination claims, federal statutes protect employees over the age of 40, said John Bauer, office managing shareholder of the Melville office of Littler Mendelson.

The discrepancy between state and federal laws could encourage a reversal in the kinds of age-discrimination lawsuits that are filed against employers, Bauer said, as in most instances older people are “generally” the subject of these claims.

“We already have laws that prohibit discrimination against people in that age group, so from a practical standpoint, I don’t know if there’s a need for it,” Bauer said of the tax credit. “If a company is hiring someone because of a tax credit, are they really hiring that person because they want them, or to get a tax credit?”

According to the legislation, introduced in the state Assembly on Jan. 8, while the rate of unemployment among older workers “is lower than that for their younger counterparts,” persons 55 and older remain unemployed for “longer periods of time” and often encounter “challenges when trying to remain or re-engage in the work force.”

Christine Malafi, partner with Ronkonkoma law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, said that if passed, the bill could help “negate” claims of discrimination as it instructs the employer to consider a person’s age as it relates to the economy of the business.

Malafi, a member of the firm’s labor and employment group, said that coupled with the incentive, an employer could be better positioned to hire someone older than 55, who may ask for a higher starting salary than a potentially younger job candidate.

“It’s a positive step [that would] negate an employer’s thoughts that somebody who is older wouldn’t be as beneficial to my organization,” Malafi said.

New York State Assemblyman Joseph Saladino, R-Massapequa, a multi-sponsor of the bill, said he hopes the bill will be approved in line with the 2015-2016 state budget, and hopes the credits will be applied retroactively to an employer’s state taxes for the 2015 fiscal year.

Businesses, Saladino said, like to “invest” in younger workers, whom they can often pay less than older workers. By promoting the employment of people 55 and older, workers who were displaced by the recession have a better chance of contributing back to their home community and will be less likely to leave.

“We want to do everything possible to keep our businesses from leaving New York State,” Saladino said. “We’re not fully out of the recession yet and the Long Island economic picture now is about how we can create more private-sector jobs. If somebody’s been paying their taxes for decades, we owe them an opportunity instead of just taking away from them.”