How old is too old for working at a job? Last week a news story hit my inbox and it really got me to thinking about age and retirement.
The article noted that Target Corp. abandoned its mandatory retirement age of 65 for its CEO, Brian Cornell. Cornell is 63.
There were two things that interested me about this story.
The first is, I know Brain. I worked with him when he was at Tropicana and I was with Dole Packaged Foods. Tropicana had bought the licensing and distribution rights to Dole refrigerated juices, and I was part of the transition team working with Brian.
Since 2014, when Cornell took the Target CEO job, sales at the national retailer have grown steadily. It appears Target’s board felt that, regarding Cornell, their mandatory retirement age was not in the best interest of the company’s growth.
I was aware that certain professions, like airline pilots, air traffic controllers and federal law enforcement officers, have mandatory retirement ages. I did not know national park rangers and firefighters did also.
In most cases, forcing someone to retire is illegal.
The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act says it’s unlawful to discriminate against employees who are 40 or older, and mandatory retirement is a form of discrimination.
The law has two exceptions.
First, it allows employers to enforce a mandatory retirement age if they can prove it would be a safety issue. Airline pilots, for example, must retire by 65 because the airlines have been able to convince the courts that allowing pilots older than that to continue flying would put passengers at risk.
Most recently, pilot staffing shortages, coupled with bad weather and operational problems, are resulting in widespread flight delays and cancellations. For that reason, some in the industry and in Congress want to revisit the mandatory retirement age.
The second exception applies to workers “in an executive or high policymaking position.” It would apply to those jobs that have overall authority over an entity—like the CEO of Target.
A partner in a law firm, accounting firm, consulting firm or financial firm also faces mandatory retirement because they are considered “equity partners” in the business.
In the United States, managing partners in most top 100 accounting firms have a mandatory retirement age of between 60 and 66, and certain Big 4 firms expect partners to retire as early as 55.
My husband has a friend who was a partner with a Big 4 accounting firm who was forced to retire at 60. He moved overseas to do the same job at the same firm where the mandatory retirement age is much higher.
Is a mandatory retirement age of 55, 60 or 65 appropriate today? Life expectancy has increased to age 79, from 76 when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the age discrimination bill into law in 1976.
People are staying healthy and active longer.
The original Social Security Act of 1935 set the minimum age for receiving full retirement benefits at 65. Since the year 2000, the age for collecting full Social Security retirement benefits has been gradually increasing from 65 to 67.
Congress cited improvements in the health of older people and increases in average life expectancy as primary reasons for increasing the normal retirement age.
Mandatory retirement is not based on the actual physical evaluation of the person. It is a somewhat arbitrary number.
There are 73 million baby boomers, many of whom are ready, willing and able to make meaningful contributions in their fields, and another 65 million Gen Xers, the oldest of whom are 57.
There was an old commercial with a tagline, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Now may be the time to revisit the old paradigms of age, ability and productivity.