Am I Being Targeted For Layoff Due To My Age?

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Thinking of the next big ideaAn AOL Jobs reader asks:

I work for a large company in Ohio. There are 50 or so employees with my job title working at various locations in the area. The company has decided to eliminate all but 15 of those positions. I am 61 years old. The company first examined our work history, anyone with disciplinary actions were eliminated from the pool. We were informed some positions had been filled and yesterday "group interviews" were conducted. The union negotiated a severance package, one week pay for each year served, the company will continue to pay benefits for three months and they will not contest unemployment benefits. I have been informed by my department head they may offer a lesser paying position if I am not among those chosen. There are 3 people with my title at my store. Should I be permitted to choose between a lesser paying job and the severance package? After the severance package, unemployment, perhaps SSI disability, can I simply accept early retirement? What other options do I have?

Older employees, along with the disabled and pregnant employees, are the most targeted employees in layoffs. There seems to be an assumption that the "old guys" will be retiring soon anyhow so it doesn't matter. It does. Targeting older employees is illegal.

How do you figure out whether you were selected due to your age? Here are some factors to consider:
  • Comments: If your boss makes comments about age, that's direct evidence of age discrimination. Referring to older employees as, "geezer," "old man," or "pops," may indicate age discrimination. It can be more subtle. Saying the company wants a "young image," asking questions about your energy level or saying you may not be able to keep up with the new changes can all be evidence of age discrimination.
  • Different treatment: If you are selected as one of the employees to be laid off but younger, less qualified employees are kept on, then that is also evidence of age discrimination. Let's say the position requires a certification. You have it but the younger employee is working to get it. You're more qualified. Seniority can also be a measure of your qualifications. If you've been in the position for 20 years with all good reviews and the younger employee has only held the job for a year, that's a good indication that age discrimination is occurring.
  • Different options: If you are told you have to take the severance, where younger employees are given the option of stepping down to a lower paying position, then that could also be age discrimination.
  • Disparate discipline: Since the company is looking at disciplinary history, if you are suddenly targeted for discipline for picky things that younger employees also do and aren't disciplined for, then that is another sign that you are being targeted due to age.

On the issue of stepping down versus taking the severance package, that's a decision you need to weigh carefully. If your retirement benefit (assuming you work for the rare company that still has one) is measured by your last year or several years' pay, then you may want to go for the severance. On the other hand, if you aren't vested or can't retire yet and only have a few years left, stepping down may be the best option. This might be a good time to meet with your accountant or a financial planner to discuss the best options for you.

If you think you're being targeted due to your age, talk to an employment lawyer in your state. Sometimes age discrimination can give you leverage to negotiate a better severance package.



If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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