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Questions may abound if you're fired after turning 50

You've been with the same company for more than two decades. Then, just a few weeks after you turn 50, they fire you. Suddenly, the career that you assumed you'd have until you decided to retire is gone.

Was it a legitimate firing, for legal reasons, or were you simply fired because of your age? Did they think you just did not fit in with the rest of the workforce, if everyone else was younger? Are they legally allowed to do that? These are just a few of the questions you may have after everything comes crashing down.

First off, you should know that age-based firings are absolutely illegal. Even if the office is filled with people in their 20s and 30s, your employer cannot determine that you're too old for the job and fire you because of it. You also can't see your pay cut because of your age, you can't be demoted, and the company can't do anything else detrimental that may be aimed at forcing you to quit.

In addition, co-workers -- and your employer -- can't mistreat you because you're now over 50. They can't harass you or create a hostile work environment. Age is a protected class under U.S. law, the same way that gender and race are protected.

That said, age discrimination may be hard to prove. Your employer may claim there were perfectly valid reasons to fire you, when you think that those are just excuses. After all, you've been there for years without a problem. When this happens, you need to know your legal rights and all of the options that you have.

Source: Beyond, "Firing Employees Over 50: When Age Is More Than Just a Number," Joe Weinlick, accessed April 13, 2017

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