HR Policies & Procedures

Asking Older Employees About Retirement Plans—Danger or Diligence?

Yesterday’s Advisor featured Attorney Joan Farrell’s take on some of the subtleties of age discrimination, retirement, and workforce planning. Today, the delicate issue of asking directly about retirement plans, plus an introduction to BLR’s unique 10-minutes-at-a-time supervisors’ training system.

 

Can You Ask About Retirement Plans?

Can you ask older employees about their retirement plans? Yes, if you are careful, says BLR® Senior Legal Editor Joan Farrell. But push too hard and it starts to look like age discrimination.

If an employer has a legitimate reason, like workforce planning or succession planning, it’s not a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to ask an employee about his or her retirement plans. However, if the person asking the question does not tread carefully, there can be legal quicksand, Farrell says.

The first problem is when the inquiry is associated with comments about the employee’s age. Managers may be a little nervous and may try to lighten the mood with a jolly, “Well, you’re getting on up there, old timer; is it about time to hang it up and head for Florida?”

Or how about “I guess it’s time to make way for the next generation.”

That’s not the best approach, says Farrell. The inquiry should be made for business reasons, such as, “The company needs to develop its workforce development plan for the future.”


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 ‘No’ Ends the Conversation

If the employee says “No, I have no retirement plans,” that’s the end of the conversation. If you continue to press, you’re starting to move over the line toward age discrimination and harassment.

Even when an employer has a legitimate reason, asking an employee about retirement plans more than a couple of times a year may be seen as a pressure tactic, Farrell says. If inquiries are more frequent than that, or if they are perceived as pressuring the employee to retire, they may well be laying the groundwork for a successful suit.

Some experts recommend asking all employees about their plans to stay with the company, thereby avoiding the age issue.

Make No Assumptions

For sure, do not assume that an employee is retiring just because he or she has reached or is about to reach “retirement age,” Farrell says.

If, in response to your question, the employee says he or she is considering retiring (or if the employee has announced his or her intention to retire), you may act on that statement.

Finally, if the manager who asked about retirement starts treating the employee differently because the manager is not pleased about the response, that could be the basis for a suit.

Age discrimination—just one more thing your managers and supervisors need training on, but who has time for training?

We’ve solved that with an easy-to-manage program that lets you train in discrete, 10-minute chunks. It’s a program that’s easy for you to deliver and that requires little time from busy schedules—BLR’s unique 10-Minute HR Trainer.

No budget? If you’re like most companies in these tight budget days, you will like that it is reasonable in cost.


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We’ve arranged to make 10-Minute HR Trainer available to our readers for a 30-day, in-office, no-cost trial. Review it at your own pace, and try some lessons with your colleagues. If it’s not for you, return it at our expense. Click here and we’ll set you up with 10-Minute HR Trainer.