In response to an increasingly older workforce and higher ages in which employees are choosing to retire, on October 4, 2021, Governor Murphy signed a bill expanding the scope of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) by eliminating certain decades old provisions that permitted employers to make age-based decisions in certain circumstances. For private sector employers, this legislation amends the LAD to extend protections to older workers by: (1) eliminating a provision of the LAD that permitted employers to not hire or promote employees over 70 years of age; and (2) expanding the remedies available to an employee unlawfully forced to retire due to age to include all remedies available under the LAD.
These amendments are a significant alteration of the LAD, and now places age on equal terms with other recognized protected categories, including but not limited to race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, and sexual orientation. While the LAD has historically been touted as one of the most progressive anti-discrimination laws in the country, it nonetheless placed age on a separate footing with other protected categories, paradoxically putting it at odds with much less progressive State and federal anti-discrimination laws. Clearly, this new legislation seeks to remedy that contradiction.
These amendments will serve the laudatory goal of protecting older workers against workplace discrimination, and employers refusing to hire or promote otherwise qualified individuals simply because they are over age 70 may find themselves defending age discrimination claims. Thus, employers are advised to review and update employee handbooks and workplace policies to ensure compliance with the LAD amendments. Moreover, employers must be mindful of these amendments when making any personnel decisions affecting older employees to ensure they are made for legitimate business reasons unrelated to age.
It remains unknown what impact, if any, these amendments will have on mandatory retirement provisions contained within shareholder, partnership, and operating agreements. We strongly encourage closely-held corporations and partnerships to review such agreements with the assistance of legal counsel to ensure compliance with the LAD’s proscriptions against age discrimination.