While there are many older workers who want to continue in the jobs because they enjoy their work, many others continue to work because they cannot afford to retire. Thanks in large part to unions, many employees are guaranteed a good pension from their company after a set number of years, regardless of their age at retirement. Known as “30-and-Out” programs (based on a United Auto Workers deal with Chrysler in 1973), they allow workers to put in their 30 or however many years and retire with full pension benefits instead of having to wait until age 65 (when people can collect their full Social Security benefits).
Many companies offer some sort of early retirement package for employees, in part to make room for younger workers but also in part to cut down on the number of top-salaried people on the payroll. Such offers are not illegal and in fact can be beneficial to both the company and the employee. The issue takes a different turn when the employee is being pressured to accept an early retirement plan.
Setting a mandatory retirement age is illegal in most professions, although there are exceptions. Federal law recognizes ADEA exemptions in the case of such employees as air traffic controllers, federal police officers, airline pilots, and firefighters. In 1996 Congress passed legislation that allowed state and local governments to set retirement ages for these and similar employees to as young as 55. State and local judges are often required to step down at a certain age as well. In addition to mandatory retirement ages, many public safety jobs also have mandatory hiring ages, thus closing the door to potentially otherwise qualified people. The argument against mandatory retirement claims that it would be fairer to all employees to rely on periodic fitness testing, since some older workers may be just as able (or perhaps more so) to carry out their duties as younger ones.