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Retire or be fired? Put offer terms in writing

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Occasionally, a good employee messes up after years of service. Before you suggest that he retire instead of being discharged, have your attorney put the offer in writing.

A federal court recently allowed an unhappy retiree to continue his lawsuit against his public employer, because of alleged oral misrepresentations made to get him to retire.

Recent case: Michael Brookshire worked for Buncombe County as an erosion control officer. He spent much of his workday in the field, driving around in a county-issued vehicle.

When supervisors heard that Brook­­­­shire was allegedly goofing off at state parks instead of working, one of them placed a GPS device in the vehicle. The county tracked Brook­­shire for three weeks. Super­­visors then compared the GPS data with Brookshire’s time sheets and learned he had been lying. He hadn’t been where he said he was.

The county told Brookshire that he could either be fired without health insurance benefits or choose to retire and use accumulated leave to reach a years-of-service milestone that let him keep his insurance. He reluctantly chose retirement.

Brookshire then sued, alleging that his supervisors had told him that if he were discharged, he would lose all retirement benefits. Brookshire claimed he relied on that statement, which turned out to be false. Although he stood to lose health insurance benefits, his other retirement benefits had already vested.

The court said the case could go to trial so a jury could decide whether the supervisors essentially lied about the retirement situation to trick Brookshire into retiring or whether they merely told him how to secure his health insurance benefits through retirement. Had the details been written, there would be no questions about who said what to whom. (Brookshire v. Buncombe County, No. 1:10-CV-278, WD NC, 2012)

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