HR clinic: Speeding up staff retirement

Can we insist that a long-standing employee retires now to help our restructuring?

The person concerned has indicated he would like to retire next year, but you want to restructure straight away and his departure would greatly assist that.

Why the rush? Most successful change comes as the result of careful planning. For the sake of your employee in the short term, it might be prudent to leave the reorganisation until he goes.

Are you clear about whether he has definite retirement plans? Do you have anything in writing from him? If not, hold a meeting to explore his expectations and write a clear note afterwards committing him to asking for a specific retirement date and offering an agreed benefits package on departure.

The matter might, however, be more pressing than that. Perhaps it's imperative that you restructure immediately, and your loyal employee just doesn't fit into your plans. I would imagine he's likely to understand that and might not want to be part of the future - but not quite yet. He'll have very good reasons to want to carry on working and will probably have undertaken financial planning to get him to where he needs to be. Leaving early could upset his calculations, so he'll be resistant to any such suggestion.

A retirement on agreed terms can be seen as a resignation, but forcing an employee to retire against his will is almost always likely to be considered as unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal. So if you do insist that he leaves now, you'll be creating a whole lot of trouble.

If you have reasonable cash reserves, one option is to put him on gardening leave: keep paying his salary until he retires, but get him out of the way of the reorganisation by not requiring him to come to work. To safeguard your position, it's sensible to underpin this with a legally binding agreement, which would include a specified retirement date.

A more dignified way is to appoint him to a time-limited job on his existing terms and conditions.

It would be bad practice to simply make him redundant, especially if it were only on statutory minimum benefits. That would be no way to reward his loyalty and would expose you to the accusation that redundancy wasn't the real reason for his dismissal. That could result in another expensive tribunal case.

- Send your HR questions to <a href="mailto:personnelsolutions@btopenworld.com">personnelsolutions@btopenworld.com</a>.

- John Burnell, director of Personnel Solutions 

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