Make sure supervisors and managers understand that they should not ask employees about their retirement plans unless they have some valid reason directly related to running the business. Constant badgering about retirement can backfire badly, especially if a supervisor also makes potentially ageist comments about the employee’s appearance, work habits or other characteristics.
Recent case: Deborrah, who was in her early 60s and a widow, worked as a school teacher. Her supervisor regularly sat down with her to discuss her teaching methods. He frequently asked her if she had considered retiring. She would explain that as a widow, she needed the money that teaching brought in.
Her supervisor also often told her that her teaching methods were “old” and “outdated” and expressed disappointment at Deborrah’s students’ standardized test scores.
Eventually, after placing Deborrah on several improvement plans, the supervisor recommended that her contract not be renewed.
Deborrah sued, alleging an age-based hostile work environment as well as age discrimination.
The court said her case could go to trial. It noted that, taken together, repeated questions about retirement (including suggestions that she might want to spend more time with her grandchildren) and comments about outdated teaching methods might indicate that the decision not to renew her teaching contract was motivated by age discrimination. (Skaggs v. Van Alstyne Independent School District, No. 4:16-CV-00227, ED TX, 2017)
Final note: It’s one thing to discuss the organization’s retirement benefits, but another entirely to suggest over and over that an employee might want to retire.
Tell managers and supervisors that those conversations—if they take place at all—should never happen during a, work assessment or other work-related counseling session.
Warn supervisors that they must also be careful to avoid loaded terms such as “old fashioned,” “old” or “outdated.”
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