How to Bring up Retirement Options With an Older Employee

You Can Inquire About Retirement—Carefully and Professionally

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When employees in your organization reach an age at which they can collect the company pension or social security income, it is normal to wonder if the employee is thinking about or has retirement plans they have yet to share. Human Resources professionals can pursue the topic of retirement plans with an older employee in a way that minimizes the possibility that they are practicing age discrimination.

It is appropriate to ask an older employee about their retirement plans when you need the information for longer-term workplace planning. You would like to have a specific timeline that both the employee and the firm could work towards for their retirement if that is desired.

Avoiding Age Discrimination 

An employer, with the goal of workforce planning and knowing staffing needs, can ask an older employee if they have plans for retirement. That is within your rights as an employer. But, if the employee's response is negative, you don't have anywhere else to go with the discussion.

If the employee gives a positive response, you can offer assistance with retirement details. Tell the employee that you need to know the date as soon as the employee decides so you can plan for their replacement. You may also want to tell the employee that you want to include them as an expert as you hire and train their replacement if this works out well and is timely for all parties.

An employee who decides to retire may ask you for a phased retirement so that they can gradually let go of their work and coworkers. Retiring employees can be frightened about what their life will look like on the other side if they are not coming into work every day.

Federal Law and Retirement

Federal law does not support mandatory retirement based on age except in a few instances such as a pilot.  In the above example, when the employee says that they have no plans for retirement, pursuing the conversation further could be looked at as harassment, especially if the employer brought the subject up regularly.

It could also be classified as age discrimination. If the pressure on the employee was increased, and the employee felt constant pressure to retire, the workplace could be considered hostile.

Thoughts About How to Bring Up Retirement With an Older Employee

The approach you may want to take is to meet with every employee individually and talk about their developmental needs and career development plans. In this way, you would not single out the one older employee. It is possible that the individual would talk about retirement during that meeting.

Career development and the opportunity to continue to grow their skills is one of the top desired opportunities that employees want from work, so this process should be pursued with every employee in any case.

Another approach you might consider using is to meet with all of your employees as a group and layout retirement options and opportunities and highlight company benefits related to retirement and other time off work options. State that you would like as much notice as possible from any employee planning retirement or other life and career opportunities that might leave your company shorthanded.

Your first step is to contact and discuss this situation with your attorney and tell him or her the reasons why you are inquiring about the employee's retirement plans. Some reasons are more legitimate than others. Your attorney may have experienced dealing with a similar situation with other clients. Attorneys often have ideas, approaches, and options that internal HR staff members don't know.

None of these methods or approaches guarantee that you will receive an answer about retirement from an older employee, but they give you some ideas. It is also recommended that you and your employer need to become clear about why you want the employee to retire if that is the real issue. A good reason might give you options. If it's just because the person is old, this is probably age discrimination.

If the situation is that the older employee can no longer do an effective job, you will want to pursue a different approach such as accommodating the employee so they are able to do the job.

Finally, in other instances of older workers over 55 or 60, you can consider extending an offer of early retirement that includes a severance package that encourages employees to accept.

Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a worldwide audience, and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.

Article Sources

  1. Travel+Leisure. "What to Know About the Mandatory Pilot Retirement Age." Accessed September 7, 2020.