How to "retire" an older worker

June 3, 2005

A longtime staffer who's in her late 50s is having trouble learning our new computerized billing system. We don't want to fire her, but we need to replace her with someone who can handle our practice's technology. If, instead, we asked her to retire, would we risk an age discrimination suit?

Q: A longtime staffer who's in her late 50s is having trouble learning our new computerized billing system. We don't want to fire her, but we need to replace her with someone who can handle our practice's technology. If, instead, we asked her to retire, would we risk an age discrimination suit?

A: Yes, if your practice employs 20 or more workers (including doctors). That would make you subject to the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects individuals who are 40 or older from employment discrimination based on age.

Treat the older worker the same as you would a younger one whose performance is inadequate. Let her know where she's falling short, what she needs to do to improve, how much time she has to get up to speed, and what will happen if she doesn't. If possible, offer training.

If her skills don't improve, you may soften the termination by giving her the option of resigning. Explain that she's entitled to accrued benefits, including a pension.