Landy Testifies Before Senate on Mandatory Retirement

"Can we tell simply by knowing someone's age whether that person will perform well or poorly on the job?" According to the testimony of Frank J. Landy, PhD, at a Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources hearing on March 8, the answer is "no." Dr. Landy testified in response to HR 849, a bill that would allow exemptions to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act for public safety officers. That is, the legislation would permit state and local municipal agencies to set mandatory retirement ages for persons whose jobs involve the public safety (e.g., police officers and fire fighters).

Dr. Landy, Professor Emeritus at the Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, directed a congressionally mandated study that resulted in a comprehensive description of the tasks performed by public safety officers, and the knowledge, skills, and physical abilities needed to perform such tasks. In April 1994, Dr. Landy testified before Congress on a similar bill and presented the findings of his massive, 22-month study. In all, his team analyzed the results of over 5,000 research studies and collected data from over 500 cities, counties, and states on the demands of public safety jobs, along with death rates and retirement policies. His research concluded that age per se is a poor predictor of a worker's ability or the likelihood that he or she will experience a debilitating illness at the work site.

Alternatively, Dr. Landy recommended the use of tests for determining fitness to continue working. His report noted that police and fire departments that are currently using tests for hiring decisions might easily use these same tests for making retirement decisions as well, and his report includes a list of legally defensible tests that are available for measuring job-related abilities.

No action was taken on the legislation following Dr. Landy's testimony in 1994. The current bill was reintroduced and passed by the House in March 1995 before being referred to the Senate. On March 8, 1996, Dr. Landy again testified before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Although the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters overwhelmingly support the bill, Dr. Landy questioned the scientific merit and social policy of basing retirement on chronological age instead of demonstrated ability to continue performing the job. For police and fire departments, it would represent a more difficult task administratively, but could result in retaining the invaluable expertise of experienced workers, as well as providing dedicated public service employees the option of continuing to work.

Sen. Jim M. Jeffords (R-VT) supports Dr. Landy's proposed alternative to mandatory retirement age and is working to convince his colleagues. His staff met with Dr. Landy to devise a compromise they hope will satisfy both camps. Termed "the exception to the exemption," this compromise would allow local jurisdictions to set a retirement age, but would provide employees an opportunity to demonstrate that they could still perform their job successfully. They could then establish an annual or biannual "testing in" process.

Loren Myhre, PhD, a physiologist testifying on the same panel as Dr. Landy, objected to this proposal on the grounds that current fitness-for-duty tests are biased and do not accurately reflect job requirements. Sen. Jeffords inquired about the use of such tests in the hiring of public safety employees and asked Dr. Myhre if he would prefer to simply use age as the determining factor, and if so what age. Dr. Myhre replied that he would and that 21 would be the ideal age requirement.

The Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources returned the bill to the Senate floor March 27. As Psychological Science Agenda went to press, the bill had not yet been scheduled for a vote. The Science Directorate sent a letter to Sen. Robert Dole (R-KS)--the Senate Majority Leader in charge of scheduling--urging him not to slate the bill for floor action. A full Senate vote would be ill-advised, the letter states, because APA believes the legislation provides a stinging rebuke to experienced and productive public safety officers and promotes unfounded discriminatory policy.

Copies of Dr. Landy's testimony are available from the Science Directorate. If you'd like one, call (202) 336-6000, send e-mail to, or write to the Science Directorate at 750 First St., NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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