The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) was designed to protect workers over 40 years old. Part of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the OWBPA preserves the rights of older employees to various benefits. It also keeps those workers from being unfairly pressured into signing away their rights after they’ve been laid off or fired in exchange for a severance package.
With all of the focus on employment discrimination against older employees these days, it’s more important than ever to recognize your obligations under the OWBPA. Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind.
The OWBPA protects older employees from undue pressure to sign away their rights
Like any other company, when you are letting go of an employee who is 40 or older, you want to insulate against age discrimination lawsuits. However, you have to be careful not to try to push the employee into an agreement that waives their rights.
Under the OWBPA, older employees have a minimum of 21 days to decide if they should sign a release. (If they are being let go as part of a mass layoff, they may have 45 days or more). Should they eventually sign the release you offer, they automatically have seven days to change their mind.
Experienced legal advice can be helpful
The OWBPA has other requirements that you must meet when presenting these waivers. For example, you need to make certain that the waiver is written in “plain English,” so that the terms are not hidden in flowery or confusing language that the average person can’t understand. You are also required to encourage the employee to seek legal representation.
You can generally expect experienced senior employees to negotiate for a better severance package before they sign an age discrimination waiver. It’s wise to have an experienced attorney review any severance packages you intend to offer and help with those negotiations.