March 15th, 2013

Minnesota readers have likely heard about the resignation of 85-year-old Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who cited lack of strength in mind and body as reasons for stepping down. Although not every reader of this blog may share the same viewpoint about the religious leader, the news does serve as a starting point for discussing some of the challenges older workers may face in the workplace.

Admittedly, the Pope’s employment situation was unique. Most workers do not have lifetime guarantees of employment — nor would most individuals want such an employment arrangement, quite frankly. That being said, many older workers enjoy their careers and do not want to feel pressured into retirement.

There are both federal and state laws providing protections to older workers. The Minnesota Retirement Law prohibits mandatory retirement for individuals under 70 years old, and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 provides even broader protection, prohibiting mandatory retirement at any age, save for a few exceptions. Finally, the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against older job applicants.

Yet the threat of age discrimination in Minnesota is very real, if 3M’s settlement of such a claim in 2011 for $3 million is any indication. The company’s laying off hundreds of workers over the age of 45 prompted that lawsuit.

Nor is Minnesota alone in such disputes. Nationwide, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 22,857 charges of age discrimination in fiscal year 2012. That figure represents a 50 percent increase from the number of complaints filed in 1999.

If you believe that you are being treated unfairly because of age, or that your employer is making pretextual rule changes because of age, don’t delay in consulting with an experienced employment law attorney.

Source: startribune.com, “Vatican: Pope Francis won’t visit Benedict on Thursday, will pay respects soon,” Nicole Winfield, March 14, 2013.

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