What Is Forced Retirement?

Forced retirement is the involuntary job termination of an older worker. Generally, an older worker may lose a job as part of a wider company downsizing. People can also be pushed into retiring early due to poor health or disability.

Mandatory retirement due to age is prohibited by U.S. law in most cases. In the real world, the statistics show a different story. A December 2018 study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute concludes that 56% of workers over the age of 50 have been pushed out of jobs before they would willingly have retired. Only one in 10 of them ever gets another job that pays as well.

Key Takeaways

  • The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits terminating an employee due to age.
  • Nevertheless, one study shows that 56% of workers over age 50 have been pushed out of jobs before they would willingly have retired.
  • Some employers offer severance packages to older workers to get their agreement to retire earlier than planned.

Understanding Forced Retirement

When most people consider retirement, they assume that they will be able to choose when they leave their jobs, usually when they have reached a certain age and have accumulated enough savings to live comfortably. With life spans growing longer, many imagine starting a new phase of their lives. Being forced to retire removes the element of choice.

Is forced retirement legal?

Mandatory retirement at a set age was abolished in 1986 by an amendment to the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. There are some exceptions for occupations that have high physical fitness requirements, such as military personnel and airline pilots.

The real world is murkier, though, especially as older employees tend to be better-paid employees. Companies that want to downsize without layoffs sometimes offer their most senior employees an early retirement package. Older employees caught in a round of job cuts sometimes get additional benefits in their severance packages, such as continuing health insurance coverage. In the corporate world, companies sometimes offer older workers attractive incentives to accept early retirement.

Forced retirement realities

Americans can choose to begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 62, although full benefits are paid only to those who wait until they reach anywhere between age 66 and 67 (depending on birth year) to begin collecting. So it’s interesting that—according to March 2018 statistics from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College—the average retirement age in the U.S. is 65 for men and 63 for women.

However, the trend is moving in the opposite direction. The U.S Bureau of Labor reports that as of the fourth quarter of 2019, 20.5 % of Americans 65 and over were still working. Other Bureau of Labor statistics from 2019 project that by 2026 30.2% of Americans aged 65 to 74 will still be working, and for Americans 75 and older that figure will be 10.8%.

20.5%

The percentage of Americans aged 65 and over who are still working

What to Do If You’re Being Forced to Retire

The American Society of Actuaries advises workers who are being forced to retire to consult a lawyer before signing any documents or waivers offered by their employers. The conditions may be negotiable. For example, the employer may agree to cover health insurance costs if the employee has not reached the Medicare-eligible age of 65.

An employee of any age who is laid off may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits that replace a portion of lost wages, generally for up to 26 weeks. What's more, any person who has reached age 59½ can withdraw money from individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) accounts without owing a 10% early-withdrawal penalty, although ordinary income taxes will be owed on the withdrawals.  What's more, thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, this penalty has been waived for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.