Our employee is over 65 years old and he seems shaky physically; it is taking him longer and longer to get his job duties done. Can we address his physical symptoms and/or ask him if he’s likely to retire soon?
Recent studies have shown that employees are retiring later in life for a number of reasons, primarily due to financial considerations.
Other older employees don’t want to retire due to other issues—loneliness, enjoying their job, having a sense of purpose, etc.
The question posed above is becoming more and more of an issue. Nevertheless, when an older worker shows physical signs of slowing down, the employer needs to stay focused on job performance concerns.
An employer should address the job performance consistently with all employees, noting the lack of productivity, absenteeism and tardiness.
If the employee brings up a physical condition that is causing the performance issues, another subject arises. Getting older is not a disability, but medical conditions caused by getting older may require the employer to accommodate the condition. This is when the employer and employee enter into the interactive process to discuss options from both sides.
It is very important to be specific about the job performance versus complaining that Employee A is “really slowing down”—older employees can be very sensitive to use of the word “slow.”
Beware of Ageism
Remember, both federal and state laws protect workers over age 40 from discrimination. Point out the specifics and suggest ways to improve the performance.
Any disciplinary action must be consistent with company policy and how you handle all employees. Follow-up is vital. If an employer has been specific in directions to employees, those employees, including older workers, can have much better success in improvement.
Communication is critical, and motivation is very helpful. By the time employees are in their 60s, advancement may not be important, but praise for a job well done can be very important.
Lastly, keep in mind that older employees can be great mentors for younger employees. Experience is a tremendous asset, and it is wise to remember the positive aspect of senior employees.
Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.