Technology changes fast, and so do the skills employees need to succeed in their jobs. But some employees don’t feel comfortable taking the steps needed to adapt. If those employees happen to be older and you end up having to replace them, you could face an age discrimination lawsuit.
You can avoid such lawsuits with a good skill-building plan—and careful documentation showing you did everything you could to get all employees up to speed. That way, those who become obsolete because their skills haven’t kept up can’t say you denied them opportunities offered to younger employees.
Recent case: John Osborne worked as a printing press operator for more than a decade until he was terminated at age 58. He sued, claiming age discrimination; his replacement was considerably younger.
The printing company painted a different picture. It originally had four press operators, three of whom knew how to run both small and large presses. Osborne could operate only the small press. That was no problem as long as there were four operators. But then one operator retired. Because volume was down, the company decided not to hire another operator. Instead, it urged Osborne to get training on the large press. He never did.
Another press operator then quit, and the company hired a temporary employee who was under age 40. He quickly learned how to operate the large press. As a result, claimed the company, it terminated Osborne.
The court dismissed Osborne’s age discrimination lawsuit. It reasoned that if he had made the effort to update his skills, he would have kept his job. Instead, his outdated skills meant he couldn’t meet his employer’s reasonable expectations. (Osborne v. MB-F, Inc., No. 1:08-CV-457, MD NC, 2009)
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