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The Legality of Mandatory Retirement

In today’s high-powered world, it is understood that businesses want only the workers who can give their best. However, it is not permissible to force people out if they fail to meet certain metrics, or if they one day fall into a category believed to be ‘substandard.’ The most common instances of this usually have to do with age, or with disability. In most cases, any kind of mandatory retirement or demotion is against the law. However, there are rare exceptions.

Mandatory Retirement for Seniors

There is a persistent problem regarding the perception of older workers that is not necessarily grounded in fact, and the ADEA was passed in part to ensure that such biases are irrelevant. However, biases do persist, and they do have effect on older workers as a whole – in 2015, for example, the unemployment rate for those over 45 years of age was almost double that of those 22 and under.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967, prohibits private employers with 20 employees or more from making their employees retire at any age over 40 solely based on their age. In other words, if the employee is found wanting in a substantive way, or cannot perform their job, they may still be let go, but only if there is a performance problem – not solely because of their age. If you are terminated due to your age, or if your employer engages in conduct that amounts to constructive termination (that is, making life so difficult for you that you are forced to leave your job), and your employer fits the criteria under the ADEA, you may have a case to bring.

Exceptions to the ADEA

There are specific exceptions to the ADEA’s blanket prohibition on mandatory retirement ages, though they are uncommonly enforced. Public employers or employers with fewer than 20 employees are not subject to the ADEA to begin with, but among those employers who are, there are two situations in which a mandatory retirement age may be enforced.

The first is reserved for high-level executives and ‘policymakers’ who reach the age of 65, as specified in the ADEA. These people must be entitled to an annual retirement plan valued of at least $44,000 per year, and must have been employed in the aforementioned ‘high level’ policymaking position for at least two years prior to retirement. This exception is rationalized by the fact that older people are thought to be more prone to lapses as they age, though the truth of such a contention obviously depends on the individual.

The second is less common, referred to as the “BFOQ” or ‘bona fide occupational qualification’ exception. This exception is invoked most often in situations where safety may become an issue, such as for pilots or law enforcement officers – in other words, in situations where a younger age can arguably be held as integral to success on the job.

Seek Experienced Assistance

If you are being forced out of your job due to your age, we may be able to help. Contact the Charleston employment law firm of Hitchcock & Potts, and attorney A. Christopher Potts will help answer your questions so you can decide where to go from here. Contact us to set up an appointment today.

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