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Telecommuting Might Be the Answer for Workers Who Change Their Retirement Plans

by Mark Schickman

Look around your workplace, and you will see baby boomers who are rethinking their retirement plans. They have had their anniversary date in 2010 circled on their calendars for a decade, they have bought their retirement condo, and they have calculated the rate of investment return that allows their retirement fund to last their lifetime.

But the last few weeks have changed much of that. Their retirement home is worth $100,000 less than they thought it was, and their stock portfolio is neither as large nor as comforting as it was on Labor Day. Suddenly, 2012 looks like a more realistic year to retire.

Of course, you can’t grill employees about their retirement plans because doing so could lead to an age discrimination charge. At the same time, you’re likely in a double-edged quandary — trying to maintain the knowledge and experience of a long-term employee whose knowledge will be hard to replicate while hoping to create opportunities for the upward mobility of newer employees you want to maintain.

According to Boston College’s Center on Aging and Work, nearly 10 percent of workers over the age of 55 work part-time, and over 50 percent of employers surveyed in 2007 would permit their older employees to move to part-time status.

But how will employers accommodate large numbers of older workers who want to keep their jobs and offices while up-and-comers want to take them over? Telecommuting may be the answer to that conundrum.

Telecommuting runs counter to many employer instincts. Communication and supervision are far more difficult. Workplace protocols are yet to be created. Legal compliance with meal breaks, wage and hour records, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations are only a few of the obstacles. But the potential benefits of telecommuting are enormous if all of the bugs can be worked out. With commuting time and cost eliminated, employees may be willing to work for less. Without having to provide an office, the employer’s infrastructure costs are less.

A long-term employee who doesn’t have to prove herself to management and who is in less need of management or supervision may be the best candidate for a telecommuting job. Look for “teleretirement” to become a new term of art describing the part-time, at-home consultancy that will meet everyone’s needs — supplemental income for the near-retiree, continuity of expertise for the employer, and promotional opportunities for an upwardly mobile workforce.

Teleretirement would carve new landmarks in the employment landscape, but not much greater than some of the other sea changes we are currently experiencing.

Audio Conference: New Ways to Make Telecommuting Work: A Win-Win for Employees and Employers

Mark Schickman is a partner with Freeland Cooper & Foreman LLP in San Francisco and editor of California Employment Law Letter. You can reach him at (415) 541-0200.