Why Being Over 50 Could Get You Fired
Dear Rich Lifer,
If you’re over 50, chances are the decision to retire won’t be yours.
A new data analysis by ProPublica and the Urban Institute found that more than half (56%) of U.S. workers over 50 have been fired, forced to retire early, or pushed out of their jobs before they were ready to retire.
What’s more, one third of these pushed-out workers go on to be fired from two or more jobs before leaving the workforce. And, only 1 in 10 of them ever reaches their previous salary level again.
If you’re under the impression age discrimination is on the decline, think again. Over the last two decades, age discrimination has only been getting worse, not better.
In 1998, the percentage of older workers who had been pushed out of their jobs was less than a third, compared with 56% in 2016. And, the percentage of older adults who suffered major financial losses from being pushed out of a job tripled, from 10% to nearly 30% over the same time period.
Coasting into retirement is no longer an option if you’re over 50. Not only is it a career mistake but also a retirement planning mistake.
Something you need to watch out for are the sneaky ways employers will try to push you out the door.
Donna Ballman, a Florida employment lawyer and author of the book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards, wrote down 11 stealth ways companies try to eliminate older workers.
Here the most common ploys, according Ballman:
1. Job Elimination
One of the most common excuses used to get rid of older employees is “job elimination.” However, that may just be an excuse for what is really age discrimination.
If the company is not really eliminating the job, just changing the title and putting someone younger in your former position, you may have an age discrimination claim.
The company is supposed to attach to a layoff notice a list of other employees included and excluded from the layoff, along with their ages. Employers can be sneaky about the way they put together these reports.
Some will show only select departments or specific job titles, which don’t give the whole picture. More often, they’ll include a few under-40 employees to make the bloodletting look less like age discrimination.
If you are selected for layoff and younger, less-qualified employees at your level are not, you might have an age discrimination claim. If you’re part of a one-person or small “layoff” and you can show that younger people are not being included, you may also be able to prove age discrimination.
3. Suddenly Stupid
If, after years of great performance reviews, you’re getting reprimanded for things everyone does, or being nitpicked for things the company didn’t care about before, it’s possible the company is gearing up for what’s called the “suddenly stupid defense.”
They’re building a case to get rid of you for poor performance – trying to show a “legitimate reason” other than age for firing you.
If you’re being targeted for write-ups when younger employees do the same things and aren’t written up, you may have a claim.
4. Threatening Your Pension
Some companies will go as far to threaten an employee’s pension if they don’t quit. That’s a scary threat, but it may be a hollow one. First of all, few people have what would be considered a “pension” (a lump sum paid out every month). Most people have 401(k)s or similar savings plans that your employer can’t touch.
Your employer may claim you can lose your right to your vested pension if you’re fired “for cause,” but it’s not that easy. You have appeal rights if they deny your benefits, and you can sue if you aren’t satisfied with the administrator’s decision.
If you’re being threatened, it’s time to run speedy-quick to an employment lawyer in your state who handles claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA – the law governing employee pension plans and other employee benefits.
5. Early Retirement
One way employers get rid of older employees is offering a package that includes incentives to take early retirement. Some of these packages are too good to pass up, so if you are offered one, consider it carefully. If you turn it down, remember you can still be fired at will.
However, if the company only fires the older folks, you might have an age discrimination claim. If the early retirement is involuntary, such as when the only alternative offered is being fired, then it probably violates age discrimination laws.
6. Mandatory Retirement Age
If your employer still has a mandatory retirement age, it’s probably breaking the law. There are exceptions for firefighters and law enforcement.
There is also a very limited exemption for employees who are at least 65 years old, who were bona fide executives or high-level policy-makers for their last two years, and who received an immediate nonforfeitable retirement benefit of at least $44,000.
7. Cutting Job Duties
One way to force older employees out is to cut job duties, limiting your authority and humiliating you with low-level tasks. You may have age an age discrimination claim if this happens.
So don’t just quit in disgust.
Cutting you out of meetings, excluding you from lunches, and sticking you in a cubicle far from the action is another way employers try to get you to quit.
If only younger employees are being included in activities from which you are excluded, this is evidence of age discrimination.
9. Denying Promotions or Opportunities for Advancement
It’s illegal for an employer to deny you a promotion just because they think you’ll retire soon. Cutting job duties and isolating you are sneaky ways for them to claim you don’t have the experience or qualifications to get a promotion or to advance in the company.
If your opportunities are limited after you hit one of those age milestones, start documenting what is happening and see whether they are also targeting younger employees for similar treatment.
10. Cutting Hours
Another way to put senior employees under duress is to cut hours to the bone. Starving you to death is a way to force you to quit.
Here, too, look around and see if older employees are being targeted.
Cutting hours and job duties, isolating you and assigning menial tasks are all forms of harassment. Other examples of age-based harassment are: calling you the “old man,” or “old lady”; constantly asking when you’re going to retire; saying you’re senile; or making other comments related to age.
Donna recommends following the company’s policy for reporting harassment. And putting everything down in writing. “Title this document, ‘Formal Complaint of Age-Based Harassment and Discrimination,’ says Ballman. “Describe how you’re being singled out for treatment different than younger coworkers.”
She says, note any ageist comments that have been made to you; any other older employees being targeted; and whether there are any witnesses or evidence. Give the company a chance to investigate. If they don’t remedy the situation or if the harassment continues, it might be time to contact an employment lawyer.
Age discrimination is a serious threat to your retirement nest egg. If you suspect you’re being targeted because of your age, start documenting everything so you can build your case.
To a richer life,