Thu Aug 4, 2011 12:44am EDT (Reuters)- If you're a small business, age discrimination is something that you should be sure to avoid. After all, wrongful termination or mistreatment of employees because of their age can result in lawsuits, as illustrated by a recent lawsuit filed by a New York teacher who was fired allegedly because of her age.

Lillie Leon, 80, has taught in schools in New York for more than thirty years, but lost her job. She claims that it's because she complained about having to escort her kindergarten students to bathroom breaks, reports the New York Daily News.

Leon walks with a cane and has bad knees. Having to escort the children to the restroom means having to walk across the school's campus, according to the New York Daily News

Employers should be aware that in certain situations, terminating an employee can amount to discrimination, including age discrimination.

Under current age discrimination laws, employers cannot discriminate against those who are over the age of 40 because of their age.

Employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of age when interviewing, during the application process, the hiring process, and the termination process. Older employees cannot be pressured into taking early retirement options, and age cannot be used to discriminate against older workers when employers need to downsize to cut costs.

However, employers can safeguard against age discrimination claims. For example, employers can come to an agreement with a terminated or laid off employee. In this scenario, the employee will be waiving their rights under the federal age discrimination law in return for some consideration, such as a severance package.

There are several requirements, however, including that the agreement must specifically refer to the waiver of rights, the employer needs to give the employee time to consider the agreement and the employer must advise them in writing to seek outside counsel first. For a business, age discrimination claims - like the one started by the New York teacher that was fired - should be avoided, and making sure you're well acquainted with the law is the first step.

© 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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