Can My Employer Force Me to Retire Once I Reach a Certain Age?

Photo by Teona Swift

A recent survey shows that most American employees think the best retirement age is between 60 and 65. Retiring at this age gives individuals the financial security to enjoy life while still relatively young.

Nonetheless, depending on their income, some people retire earlier or later. The survey indicates that those making at least $100,000 a year expect to retire in the ideal age range, while those making $30,000 or less don’t expect to retire.

Older people approaching the expected retirement age might be anxious about their employers possibly making them leave their job. Know your rights so you can take action if you worry that this might happen and your employer violates your employee rights.

Is there a mandatory retirement age? At what age can a company force you to retire? Is that even legal? Know the answers here in this helpful guide.

What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination is when an employer mistreats workers due to their age. These acts could include the employer firing, demoting, or refusing employment to those over 40. 

The law can hold employers accountable if they don’t take any precautions or put a stop to existing issues through the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. The result is that they are liable for any damages the employee undergoes, whether that be emotional distress, harassment, or others. The Civil Rights Center enforces the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. 

Both the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees that are 40 or older. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces the FEHA, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADEA. 

However, the ADEA is a federal law, and the FEHA, as a state law, protects more employees because it covers businesses with five or more workers. In contrast, the ADEA only protects employees if they work for a company with 20 or more workers. 

Signs of Age Discrimination at Work

While some employers blatantly discriminate against their employees, others are more subtle. Here are some signs that your employee is singling you out due to age.

1. Frequent mention of age

If your employer frequently brings up your age in discussions or through jokes, it can be a form of harassment. Though it may initially seem harmless, the persistent mention of age and its stereotypes can create an unwelcoming or uncomfortable atmosphere, leading you to leave.

2. Preferring younger employees

While there’s nothing wrong with hiring younger employees, an employer focusing on hiring only younger workers, even if they lack skill or experience, can show age discrimination. They could also be trying to push you out of your position.

3. Passing you over for promotions

An employer not giving you a promotion even if you’re a tenured employee isn’t necessarily discrimination unless they give the position to a younger worker with less experience. However, if you notice that they keep doing this frequently and giving you excuses, you may have a case of age discrimination.

4. Creating ways for you to leave

Sometimes, the most subtle methods of age discrimination are how an employer tries to force you to leave. These could include offering you a retirement package, eliminating your job title, or frequently talking to you about exiting. The discrimination is particularly glaring if you’re not nearing retirement age or have been a good employee with nothing on your record.

Mandatory Age Retirement: When is it Acceptable?

Is mandatory retirement legal? Only specific industries and government positions have a forced retirement age. For instance, the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act states that pilots can serve until age 65, while Public Law 92-297 requires air traffic controllers to retire at 56. Certain states have judges retire at 70, such as Arizona, New Jersey, and New Hampshire

The ADEA also provides that employees in high-ranking policymaking or bona fide executive position must retire at 65. However, the employer must give them a benefit of at least $27,000 from deferred compensation plans, profit-sharing plans, pensions, or savings. The employer can’t force them to retire if these are unmet.

An employer can’t force employees to retire in California just because they’re over 40. Likewise, putting a mandatory retirement clause in their retirement plan, contract, pension plan, or any other agreement is also illegal. 

One of the ways an employer can force an employee to retire is by proving that age is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). They must show that employees of a certain age can no longer perform their duties successfully or safely. However, this defense is usually unsuccessful because it must prove that everyone of a certain age can’t do the position’s responsibilities.

Age Discrimination: When is There Forced Retirement?

Many employers look for alternatives to force an employee out of their position because they know the act is illegal. However, even if they don’t push for mandatory retirement, there are other ways the law could see as age discrimination. 

For instance, an employer may allow an older worker to keep working within the company but must move to a different position. An employer also can’t lower an employee’s salary or ask them to take a pay cut because of their age.

Denying employees benefits, such as paid time off or health insurance, is also a form of age discrimination. So, if your employer is doing any of these things and you’re over 40 years old, remember your rights and that they can’t force you to choose between retiring and objectionable working conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Age Discrimination

Here are some FAQs regarding age discrimination and the steps you can take if your employer uses discriminatory tactics.

1. How do I file a complaint based on age discrimination?

You can file a complaint with the EEOC. Remember that you only have 180 days since the incident to file, so it’s best to do it quickly. However, before approaching the EEOC, consult an age discrimination lawyer on all the legal actions you can take.

2. When is an employee benefit considered unequal based on age discrimination?

Check the benefits your employer offers to younger employees in similar positions. For example, if they get health insurance, your and your younger colleagues’ packages must be the same. You may have an age discrimination case if your benefits differ from younger employees with the same job title or position.

3. How can an employer defend themselves if I question them on unequal benefits?

If you bring up the case of unequal benefits, your employer needs to prove that they’re spending the same amount on older and younger employees. They must also show that the benefits packages for more senior employees are more expensive, hence the inequality. This is called the equal cost defense.

4. Are offsetting benefits legal?

Under the ADEA, employers can offset certain benefits only in limited circumstances. However, this can only take effect if the older employee can receive other types of benefits from all sources available that equalize their package to what younger workers get. Take note that the ADEA needs to authorize the offsetting explicitly.

Know Your Rights

If you’re experiencing instances where your employer forces you to retire, it’s best to hire an employment lawyer as soon as possible. Shegerian & Associates can help you seek justice and hold your employer accountable for violating your rights. Contact us today by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.