How to Bring up Retirement With an Older Employee

You Can Inquire About Retirement - Carefully

Talking with an Employee about Retirement Is a Challenge. Knauer/Johnston/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Do you need to know how to broach retirement with your older employees? This HR manager sought ideas about how to ask a 67-year-old employee about her retirement plans without the possibility of age discrimination.

Dear Susan:

I was hoping you could give me some advice as to how I can delicately bring up the subject of retirement for one of our employees who is at the age of 67. We would like to have a specific timeline that both the employee and the firm could work towards for his/her retirement.

Dear Amy:

This really is a delicate topic, and I have never had to do this before. I would call our attorney and ask, if I were facing this situation, because of factors related to potential age discrimination. You don't say why you'd like the individual to retire, and that can also make a difference. For example, can the employee still perform the job effectively?

It may be that it is perfectly okay to ask the employee if he/she has retirement plans. But, it seems that you have a broader goal than just understanding the employee's plans. Consequently, this might not be your best approach.

An employer, with the goal of workforce planning and knowing staffing needs, can ask an older employee if he has 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 his replacement.

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

Federal Law and Retirement

Federal law does not support mandatory retirement based on age except in a few instances such as these: Jobs with Mandatory Retirement. In the above example, when the employee says that he has 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 I might take is to sit every employee down in a private meeting and talk about their developmental needs and career development plans. In this way, you would not be singling out 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 skills is one of the top five things that employees want from work, so I support pursuing this process.

Another approach I might use is to meet with all of your employees as a group and lay out retirement options and opportunities and highlight company benefits related to retirement and 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.

I do think your first step is your attorney as he or she may have experienced this situation with other clients. Ours often has ideas and options we didn't know.

None of these methods guarantee the answer you'd like to obtain, but they give you some ideas. I also think that you and your employer need to become clear about why you want the employee to retire. A good reason might give you options. If it's just because the person is old, I'm not a fan.

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.


Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.

The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from state, federal, or international governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas and assistance only.