For goodness sake, when will they retire?

If you have ever uttered those words in frustration, now is the time to stop!

A fundamental shift in employee rights took place on 1st October. Previously an employer could require an employee to retire on a pre-determined date on or after their 65th birthday. Today the employee tells the employer when they will retire.

Even the question “When will you retire” is potentially an age-discriminatory question – you wouldn’t, after all, ask it of a 25 year old.

So how do you now find out when an employee will retire? The short answer is: when the employee tells you. For the time being, at least, it would be wise to not ask the employee the question directly.

There are two or three possible approaches you might use:

Employees need to know how they are going to inform you that they want to retire; ie to whom they need to make the request and what the process is likely to be. You can expect them to give you contractual notice but you might request that they let you know in good time so you can plan manpower requirements. Simply publishing a policy is non-discriminatory and flags up merely that you would like to know.

Alternatively, you could make a broad request, via the notice board, intranet or other “generic” medium, for employees to let you know in good time when they intend to retire. Again, as a minimum you can expect them to give you contractual notice but obviously a polite request for more would be reasonable and, we suggest, safe. However, it is important that the request is general, ie to all employees, rather than addressed to one or two who may be at or near retirement “age”. A letter to selected employees would contravene this principle and place you at the, albeit slight, risk of a discriminatory claim.

A good approach would be inclusion in the annual performance review or development meeting. It is quite legitimate to ask employees how they see their future and it can be done without any direct reference to retirement. It gives a platform for the employee to introduce the subject without feeling they would be prejudicing their position.

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