Q. Is it OK to ask members of ourteam what their tentative retirement plans are so we can focus on having enough trained people ready to step up when vacancies occur? — Mona, Ohio
A. Great question. You may be surprised but, in general, the courts have found that it is perfectly acceptable to ask workers nearing retirement age of their plans to continue working or when they plan to retire.
The problem, of course, is that many of those workers don’t think that question is at all acceptable. They worry about age discrimination—and those fears might trigger lawsuits. A related problem: Supervisors may not handlewell if they assume an older worker is likely to retire soon.
The challenge, then, is to find ways to measure the expected workforce turnover without creating the perception that you intend to hurry older workers out the door. At the same time, you need to hold these workers to the same performance standards as everyone else.
So, yes, you can ask about their plans. But if you do, be prepared to explain carefully why you are asking. You can blunt some of the backlash by asking the question of all managers and executives. Ask them, “What are your plans, so we can engage in succession planning?” Consider posing the question in an anonymous survey.