Federal law and Massachusetts law both prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees based on their age.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is the state agency that enforces these laws in Massachusetts. Employers of six or more individuals are covered by the state statute.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)is the federal agency that enforces the federal statute. Employers of twenty or more individuals are covered by the federal statute.
Understanding the Law
These laws mean that if you are 40 years old or older, an employer may not take any adverse employment actions against you because of your age. This includes:
- Refusing to hire
- Terminating, discharging, or laying off
- Refusing to promote
- Paying lower wages or giving fewer benefits, or discriminating against you in any other term or condition of employment.
An employer may have violated the law if your age was the reason or one of the reasons for the action taken against you.
If you were terminated and replaced because of your age, your replacement does not have to be under 40 in order for you to have a valid claim. However, an employer does not necessarily violate the law merely because it terminated you in favor of someone younger, or hires or promotes someone younger instead of you.
Your employer generally may not require you to retire at a certain age. There are exceptions to this rule for certain public employees and for certain high-compensated executives.
Waiver of Rights
Employees are sometimes asked to sign statements releasing their employers from any liability they may have for violating age discrimination laws. If you are asked to sign such a statement, you may wish to consult an attorney.
However, you should know such waivers may not be enforceable unless certain conditions are met. Some of the conditions are:
- The waiver must be clear and understandable.
- The employer has to be offering you something in return (such as increased severance benefits).
- The waiver must specifically refer to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and G.L. c.151B.
- The employer must advise you that you can consult a lawyer, give you 21 days to consider the agreement, and give you 7 days to revoke it even after you have signed.
- If you are part of a group layoff, under federal law your employer may have to provide you with even more time (45 days) to consider any waiver of rights. In addition, your employer may have to give you certain information, including the ages of the employees being laid off and the ages of the employees being retained.
Time Limits for Filing a Claim
If you believe you have been the victim of age discrimination, you have the right to file a complaint within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act.