Las Vegas POA

Mandatory Retirement Not ‘Involuntary’

Written on 04/30/2021
Will Aitchison

Firefighter Robert Pyzyna worked for the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District in Illinois from June 2005 until his retirement on October 31, 2017. Pyzyna’s retirement was required because he had reached the age of 65, the mandatory retirement age for active firefighters under the Illinois Fire Protection District Act.

Pyzyna retired with a defined benefit pension plan and began receiving pension benefits in November 2017. That same month, Pyzyna also filed a claim for unemployment benefits, indicating that he sought those benefits because he had been laid off from his place of employment. The District protested, contending that “Mr. Pyzyna retired and was provided an employer-sponsored, defined benefit pension, he was not ‘laid off’ for any reason and we challenge any award of unemployment benefits.”

The dispute eventually reached the Illinois Court of Appeals, which rejected Pyzyna’s claim. The Court found that the state unemployment law “only provides benefits to individuals whose unemployment is not occasioned with their consent or brought about by their fault. The law precludes individuals whose unemployment stems from their own misconduct from collecting unemployment benefits, and defines misconduct as the deliberate and willful violation of a reasonable rule or policy of the employing unit, governing the individual’s behavior in performance of his work, provided such violation has harmed the employing unit or other employees or has been repeated by the individual despite a warning or other explicit instruction from the employing unit.

“Here, there is no dispute that Pyzyna’s separation from the District was not occasioned by any misconduct as he did not deliberately or willfully violate any of the District’s rules or policies; rather, he simply reached the statutorily mandated age of retirement. Instead, the relevant question is whether Pyzyna’s statutorily mandated retirement can be considered a voluntary act without good cause attributable to his employer within the meaning of the Unemployment Act.

“Following our review of the case law and the rationales expounded therein, we believe that the better approach is the one adopted by courts finding that employees who leave their places of employ due to a mandatory retirement policy or provision do so voluntarily absent good cause attributable to their employers. We find this result particularly appropriate, given the facts and circumstances of this case, since there is no dispute that Illinois fire departments are bound by the terms of the Fire Protection Act and the mandatory retirement provision contained therein. Indeed, the mandatory retirement provision is not a policy set by individual fire departments; rather, it is set by statute and is applicable to Illinois fire departments and firefighters.

“Pyzyna and all other firefighters thus know that their careers as firefighters are finite and will terminate when they reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. They know they no longer meet the qualifications to serve as a firefighter once they reach that age. By accepting employment at the District, Pyzyna accepted and agreed to abide by that employment term. We therefore conclude that when Pyzyna left his employ with the District, in accordance with the terms of his employment that he accepted when he commenced his career as a firefighter, he did so voluntarily. Moreover, given that the mandatory retirement policy at issue was set by statute and not by the District, Pyzyna’s separation from his place of employ cannot be considered good cause attributable to his employer.”

Prospect Heights FPD v. Department of Employment Security, 2021 IL App (1st) 182525 (2021).

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