Age Discrimination Against Employees Close to Retirement

As most workers know, there are many subtle ways to discriminate against older employees in the workplace even with eeoc regulations implemented. Furthermore, older job applicants frequently feel anxious about having to put their birth dates on forms and provide prospective employers with high school and other graduation dates. Age is not just a state of mind, it’s often a very easily discovered fact.

Now that the EEOC is receiving over 24,000 age discrimination charges a year (as of Fiscal Year 2008), less scrupulous employers may keep looking for new ways to cleverly ease older employees out of their jobs. Furthermore, America’s troubled economy is motivating some employers to let some of their more experienced workers go through layoffs, corporate restructuring and demotions.

Older Employees Forced to Retire - Is this Legal?

Sometimes employers prefer to replace their employees approaching retirement sooner than the legal retirement age. This can be legally done by offering the employee a voluntary retirement package and would require you to sign a waiver of your ADEA rights. However, in recent times, some older people in the workforce are not accepting these early retirement packages as the current economic situation has caused many 401ks to be hit hard by the financial mess. If your employer terminates you after you refuse a voluntary retirement package during this time for an unexplained reason, this could be grounds for a lawsuit.

Protection of Employee Benefits Nearing Retirement

Back in 1990, Congress passed a bill entitled the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, which amended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Since Congress knew that many employers were dismissing older employees because their job benefits often cost more than those of their younger counterparts, they decided to try and even the playing field. This 1990 Act made it lawful for employers to make age-based reductions in employee benefit plans when major cost considerations were involved. One key provision stated that the adjusted amount to be spent on the older worker’s benefit plan had to remain at least equal to that being spent on the younger workers so the adjustment would not violate the ADEA.

Mandatory Retirement Age Policies Are Coming Under Fire

In a January 2008 ABA Journal article, the author noted that more and more law firms are beginning to question whether they should maintain and enforce mandatory retirement ages for their attorneys. The Sidley Austin $27.5 million age discrimination settlement is one of the events that may be causing many law firms to rethink their positions on this topic, even though that settlement did not require Sidley Austin to admit any wrongdoing.

This debate continues in many other business circles, including academic workplaces and among airline pilots. Would a much younger pilot have been able to achieve that miracle landing on the Hudson River in 2009?

Some of  AT&T’s retired workers have filed an EEOC charge claiming they are victims of age discrimination. They’re arguing that AT&T is refusing to re-employ them because they left earlier under the company’s past early retirement programs. Employers of all sizes and disgruntled employees who believe they were forced out of other companies will be watching the outcome of this case very closely.

In May of 2009, A Nebraska county lost an age discrimination case and was ordered by the EEOC to pay the claimant, who was over the age of 70, $50,000 in damages. The complainant had been told that he would have to take and pass a stress test to continue in his employment. No such test was ever formally implemented by the county after this particular employee retired.

Drawing Social Security Benefits

As more older workers are discovering that it’s hard to find new jobs now that America’s economy is faltering, many are wondering if they should go ahead and apply for their Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, it’s not always best to start drawing on these benefits too soon because your overall payout may be much lower than if you wait to file at what’s considered your maximum retirement age (which is currently based on your year of birth).

While each family’s financial situation is different, you may want to consider continuing your job hunt and reviewing the detailed information available on the government’s Social Security Web site.

Legal Help for Retirement Age Discrimination

Workers approaching retirement age are strongly advised to gather together and review all of their employee benefit information, including 401K and pension plan materials, so they can thoughtfully plan out their retirement finances. Whenever possible, it’s always wise to consult with an employment law attorney who can help you decide whether to accept an employer’s early retirement plan or when you should file for your Social Security benefits. An employment law attorney can also help you determine if you should file an EEOC charge based on age discrimination.

For example, if you believe you were wrongfully forced out of your last job during corporate layoffs or the restructuring of your last employer’s company, you may need to pursue this option. Before hiring an attorney, you also have the option of filing an EEOC charge on your own. This first step must be taken at some point if you’re planning to sue your former employer in a private lawsuit later on.

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