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How Reductions in Force May Violate the ADEA

September 4, 2020 Age Discrimination

Your Employer Can’t Use Mass Layoffs To Fire All Its Older Workers

A “reduction in force” is a term used to refer to firings and mass layoffs. Companies often take this action during economic downturns, when the company is trying to pivot to something new, or when they’ve encountered major financial setbacks.

Companies can’t just fire people without considering the law, however. There are a number of laws in place to protect people in mass firing situations, and one of those is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Under the law, the reasons for firing workers need to be non-discriminatory. The employer needs to explain the reasons clearly and consistently. And under the ADEA, workers can’t be fired because of their age.

Here are several ways employers may violate the ADEA when choosing which workers to let go:

1. By blatantly firing anyone over a certain age

It may sound obvious, but your employer isn’t allowed to simply fire everyone over a certain age during large-scale layoffs. The ADEA specifically prohibits the firing of workers over the age of 40 because of their age.

2. By firing anyone over a certain salary

Some companies try to get around the ADEA by giving a different reason for firing people—even though that reason just happens to affect mostly older workers. This is also prohibited.

For example, it’s not uncommon for older workers to have higher salaries than younger ones, for reasons of seniority. If a company fires everyone above a certain salary, but all of those fired just happen to be over 40, they may be in violation of the ADEA.

3. By firing people for other discriminatory reasons

A company may give a different reason for certain firings—for instance, they need to embrace cutting-edge technology to keep themselves relevant, and want to keep on only those workers who are “digital natives.”

There is a discriminatory assumption that older workers can’t embrace change or are not as technically adept as younger workers. Language can be a giveaway that this kind of thinking is going on behind the scenes.

For instance, the term “digital natives” refers to individuals born after the invention of the Internet, who are assumed to be more technically adept because they grew up around computers and online technologies. These people would be born in the 1990s at earliest.

If a company gives reasons such as these when firing employees, but all its fired employees just happen to be older, this may be a violation of the ADEA.

Talk to a Philadelphia employment lawyer

If your company is undergoing mass layoffs, or even more targeted firings—and most of the employees let go are above a certain age—they may be violating the ADEA.

A knowledgeable employment attorney can help you determine whether that’s the case, conduct thorough research into your company’s actions, and defend your rights in court.

Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at for a free, confidential consultation today. 

The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.