Sadly, age discrimination has become a serious problem in the United States. In too many cases, companies take adverse action against older workers because of their age. According to a report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), nearly 60 percent of workers over the age of 45 report that they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
However, age discrimination is illegal. Older workers have valuable legal protections. One of the important federal statutes protecting workers from age discrimination is the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA). Specifically, the OWBPA protects the employee benefits of older workers. Here, our experienced Pennsylvania age discrimination attorneys provide an overview of the important things that employees need to know about the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act.
Your Guide to the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act
The Background and History
Passed into law in 1990, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) is an amendment to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The OWBPA prohibits age discrimination in several ways. For instance, the statute makes it unlawful for employers covered by the statute to:
- Target older workers when laying off workers or undertaking staff-reductions;
- Fail to follow certain procedures when asking older workers to waive their rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
- Use an employee’s age as the basis for discriminating against them in regards to benefits;
Even if you have signed a Severance or Release Agreement and received severance, if the Agreement does not comply with the OWBPA, you may be able to bring an ADEA claim and keep your severance. In other words, you may not have to give back your severance in order to pursue your age discrimination claim.
Who is Covered by the OWBPA?
The ADEA — which includes the OWBPA — applies to all employers with 20 or more total employees. Furthermore, in certain jurisdictions, some smaller companies may be covered by a similar state regulation. As for employees, the OWBPA covers employees who are 40 years old or older. If you work at a company that employs at least 20 people and you are at least 40 years old, you have important rights under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act.
Your Rights When Presented With a Severance Agreement/Early Retirement Package
Often, employers will ask employees to sign a ‘waiver’ that contains a release of all claims — including an age discrimination claim — within a severance agreement or early retirement agreement.
The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act requires companies to follow certain procedures when presenting these waivers to older workers. Should they fail to comply with its requirements under the OWBPA, any waiver that is signed may be wholly unenforceable. If you are at least 40 years old, and you have been presented with a severance agreement by your company, you might have important rights under the OWBPA. For instance:
- In a group lay-off, employers must advise the employee of who in their decisional unit was also laid-off and who was kept, identified by title and AGE.
- Employers must not exercise undue pressure in pressuring older workers to sign a waiver of their rights;
- Employers must make any waiver reasonably understandable to an ordinary person;
- The release of claims must be presented in written form;
- The waiver must be reasonably succinct and accurate;
- The waiver must explicitly mention that signing it will result in the employee releasing their claims under the ADEA;
- Employees being asked to sign such a waiver must be encouraged to consult with a qualified employment attorney; and
- Older workers must be given at least 21 days to consider the offer (which can be waived) and 7 days to revoke their signature, in an individual lay-off. For a group lay-off the employee must be given 45 days to consider the Agreement.
In other words, older workers being offered severance benefits/early retirement in an exchange for the release of their age discrimination claim must be given a fair opportunity to understand the agreement, carefully assess their rights and options, and consult with a skilled legal professional. If older workers are being targeted in the company’s layoffs and/staff reductions, the affected workers may have an employment discrimination claim.
How Our Age Discrimination Attorneys Can Help
Our top-rated age discrimination lawyers are committed to protecting the rights of older workers. If you are an older worker who is being offered a severance package, offered early retirement, or you are being laid off, it is crucial that you understand your rights under the OWBPA. You have the right to consult with an experienced employment lawyer. You should exercise this right.
Our age discrimination attorneys will conduct a comprehensive review of your case. Before you sign any waiver, we will make sure that doing so is actually in your best interests. Remember, you are not required to sign any severance or early retirement agreement and should seek legal counsel before doing so.
If you believe that your employer has violated your rights under the OWBPA, it is imperative that you take immediate action. You should contact our employment law attorneys rights away. It is possible that a previous waiver that you signed is not enforceable and you may have been a victim of age discrimination.
Speak to an OWBPA Attorney Today
At Console Mattiacci Law, our employment attorneys have the skills and experience to handle all types of age discrimination. If your rights were violated under the OWBPA, we are here to help. To schedule a fully private initial consultation, please do not hesitate to contact us today. We represent employees in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York.