Does Mandatory Retirement Count as Age Discrimination?
| Read Time: 4 minutes | Discrimination

Retirement is becoming less common and more difficult for many Americans. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of workers over age 75 to grow by 96.5 percent by 2030.

Yet, employers continue to use forced retirement policies to push older employees out of the workforce. These mandatory retirement policies are often illegal under age discrimination laws. 

But when does mandatory retirement count as age discrimination? The answer to this depends on the facts of the case. The employment attorneys at King & Siegel LLP are here to help with your needs. We can review your employer’s policies and tell you whether they violate the law. Contact us today to speak with a California age discrimination lawyer!

Understanding Mandatory Retirement

Mandatory retirement refers to employer policies that set a specific age at which employees must retire. This “retirement age” ignores an employee’s performance, skills, or desire to continue working.

Employers sometimes believe an employee’s abilities or productivity declines with age. In some cases, this could lead to safety issues and harm to others. Employers also think these policies will create opportunities for younger, more attentive workers. 

In the past, mandatory retirement was more accepted and prevalent in various professions. For example, safety-sensitive industries such as aviation used mandatory retirement ages for pilots.

However, many employers use these policies for industries that don’t have risks due to age. In these cases, employees often allege age discrimination from mandatory retirement age policies.

When Does Mandatory Retirement Count as Age Discrimination?

State and federal laws exist to prevent discriminatory practices in the workplace. These laws generally prohibit mandatory retirement based on age. 

Federal Law

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects individuals aged 40 or older from age-based discrimination in employment. It prohibits mandatory retirement based only on age, except in limited circumstances. These exceptions require a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) or statutory exemption.

California State Law 

California law outlaws most policies or practices mandating retirement for workers over 40. There are limited exceptions to this rule, but regulators closely scrutinize any attempt to circumvent the law.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the state’s key employee protection legislation. This law is notably more expansive than the federal ADEA as it covers individuals of all ages, not only those over 40. You can continue working at any age, even if your retirement plan or pension has a set retirement age.

Mandatory Retirement Is Sometimes Legal

Under certain circumstances and within specific industries, California and federal law might uphold mandatory retirement policies. These laws provide narrow requirements to separate age discrimination from mandatory retirement age.

Industry Exceptions 

Under the ADEA, specific industries may justify mandatory retirement policies. These industries involve safety-sensitive roles such as:

Employees in these types of industries are believed to need physical capabilities or quick decision-making skills. Federal law allows mandatory retirement because age can affect these traits.

Bona Fide Occupational Qualification 

Both California law and the ADEA recognize the BFOQ exception. Employers can use mandatory retirement if age is a legitimate requirement for the job’s safe and efficient performance. That said, qualifying for the BFOQ exception is not easy. It only applies in limited circumstances where age is crucial for job performance and no viable alternatives exist.

Steps to Take if You Face Mandatory Retirement

You can challenge your employer’s mandatory retirement age if your job doesn’t meet the limited exceptions. Following these steps will put you in the best position to hold your employer accountable.

Consult with an Attorney

Seek legal advice from an attorney who focuses on employment law. They will have the most knowledge about mandatory retirement age laws in California. An experienced attorney can offer advice, review the situation, and determine whether a mandatory retirement policy is illegal. If so, your attorney can take your case and recommend the best course of action.

Gather Documentation

Collect and document all relevant information as soon as possible, including performance reviews, company policies, and anything else related to mandatory retirement. These documents can help your attorney decide if your employer’s policies follow the law. Any evidence will also help build a case if you need to file a lawsuit or complaint.

Attempt Negotiation

Sometimes, negotiating with your employer is the easiest way to keep your job. Discussing the retirement policy and presenting alternatives can avoid lengthy, expensive legal battles. Many employers don’t want the negative attention that comes with lawsuits, especially if coworkers join you in this complaint.

File a Charge of Discrimination

Negotiations don’t always work, but your options don’t end here. You can report discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The government values these complaints and will investigate your employer’s conduct. These regulators may even file a lawsuit against your employer if they find the behavior illegal.

File a Civil Lawsuit

You can sue your employer in civil court for age discrimination. While this may give you pause, you can be confident that your attorney will handle the bulk of this process. If you have a strong case, you may receive compensation or reinstatement because of your employer’s discrimination.

Schedule a Consultation

Don’t face California employment discrimination alone – work with the professionals at King & Siegel LLP. Our lawyers will help determine if your employer’s mandatory retirement counts as age discrimination. They have helped many Californians recover millions of dollars due to employment discrimination. Call our office today to schedule your case evaluation.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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