When some employees approach retirement, they begin to coast. They may think that there’s no way their employer will let them go at their age, assuming
An employee who’s suddenly getting by doing the minimum work possible can frustrate everyone involved, including co-workers and supervisors.
The truth is, that worker isn’t untouchable—if you play your cards right and play the hand he has dealt you. Here’s how to handle the situation when you discover the employee is still coming to work but has mentally retired:
- Continue to set clear and objective performance goals. Explain what the employee needs to do to meet those goals. Continue to conduct appraisals.
- Treat the employee as if he had years remaining on the payroll. For example, don’t exclude him from promotional opportunities just because he has announced he’ll retire in the next few years. You can consider such an announcement, but don’t make it the sole reason for rejecting his application.
- If an employee who has announced an impending retirement suddenly earns a markedly lower , make sure you can document the change with solid, objective examples of poor or declining performance.
As the following case shows, you must be able to back up a suddenly
Recent case: Curtis Maughan, who was nearing retirement age, worked for Alaska Airlines overseeing work performed by outside vendors. During an interview for an internal promotion, a manager asked Maughan about his “five-year goals.” Maughan confessed that he planned to retire sometime in the next few years since he was just 18 months shy of retirement eligibility. He didn’t get the promotion.
Maughan asked why he hadn’t been picked, and a supervisor told him it was partly because he had told the interview panel that he intended to retire soon.
The next day Maughan received a very critical . Unfortunately for the airline, this review criticized some of the same things that an earlier review had praised. Plus, it brought up problems that predated earlier reviews.
Maughan suspected age discrimination and complained to HR. But instead of investigating his discrimination claim, the airline offered him a severance package, which he refused. The airline then terminated Maughan allegedly for poor performance. That’s when he sued, filing an ADEA discrimination lawsuit.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial. It said there was evidence that the stated were simply a pretext for age discrimination given their proximity to Maughan’s announced intention to retire and the apparent fact that he was terminated for performance issues that had been previously ignored. (Maughan v. Alaska Airlines, No. 07-6198, 10th Cir., 2008)
Note: The second big lesson in this case is that you can’t just throw a severance offer at an employee and expect a problem to go away. HR should have conducted a thorough investigation of Maughan’s allegations. Then it might have been able to prevent a lawsuit. Simply comparing his last two appraisals should have signaled that there was a potential problem that required follow-up before termination.
Final note: Always try to imagine how a judge or jury might view the employee’s version of events. Does it seem as if you are trying to rush the employee out the door? Might a court believe you’re trying to wiggle out of paying a pension? Anything that looks like a trumped-up charge can kill your defense.
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