How to plan for succession without triggering age-bias lawsuits.

Position:HR Strategy

Aging baby boomers are waiting longer to retire. Their longevity in the workplace is complicating the succession planning that companies depend on to keep the staffing pipeline primed with the next generation of leaders.

The problem: You can't just ask senior staff members when they plan to move on. Employers need to be more careful than ever to avoid age discrimination claims when conducting succession planning.

Federal and state age discrimination laws make it dangerous to make assumptions about an older worker's potential retirement plans and to focus too narrowly on age when planning succession. And forced retirement is almost always unlawful.

Here are some practical ways to reduce the risks:

Avoid age-based stereotypes when planning for succession. More workers are choosing to work longer, and it is dangerous to assume that an older worker is planning to retire or reduce his or her schedule based on age.

Don't focus solely on older workers when gathering information for succession planning. If you need to get a feel for employees' career plans, consider gathering information from a cross-section of employees of different ages and diverse backgrounds.

Be cautious about asking employees about retirement plans when talking about succession planning. What seems like an innocent question could be interpreted as age-based stereotyping.

A safer approach is to ask more generally about an employee's future plans and goals, as well as whether he is anticipating any changes in his role or work schedule...

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