Despite the enlightened outlook that many businesses have cultivated, discrimination in one form or another is still a problem in some companies.
Perhaps your termination after two decades of hard work and loyalty to the business came as a complete surprise. Do you believe age discrimination played a role in the decision to let you go?
The congressional view
In passing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or ADEA, Congress took aim at employers who believed that maintaining a profitable enterprise depended on turnover that brought in new blood. Basically, that meant replacing older employees with younger people who could do the same work for less money. Congress took a dim view of this and other practices that adversely affected employees who were over the age of 40, noting that older workers “found themselves disadvantaged in their efforts to retain employment.”
Actions to avoid
In complying with the ADEA, an employer cannot deprive an over-40 employee of opportunities or limit his or her prospects in any way because of age. The employer cannot refuse to hire or terminate anyone because of age. In fact, while terminating older employees who have been with the company for a long time is risky from a legal point of view, the departing employees also possess valuable institutional memories that will no longer be available to the company.
Your severance agreement
If the company offers you a severance agreement, it must meet certain requirements set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the ADEA and the Older Workers Benefit Protection Plan. Plain, easy-to-understand language is one of those requirements. The writer must avoid using complex sentences and legal jargon. The document must reference the ADEA or it will not be enforceable. As an over-40 departing employee, you must have 21 days in which to review the agreement. In addition, there must be a recommendation for you to seek legal counsel before you sign the document.
Remember that you are part of a protected class, and age discrimination cannot play a role in your termination. If you believe that your employer violated your rights under the ADEA, explore your legal options promptly.