RE: Dealing with older workers that aren't up to par?
Sat, 08/5/06 4:07 PM
Fieldthistle, you certainly have a difficult problem, one that all American businesses will increasibgly face as the population ages. As previous posters have noted, the potential for lawsuits is very real when making employment decisions (such as discipline or termination) on workers aged 40+. I teach and consult in the area of human resource management, so I'll try to give you some advice from a legal and managerial perspective.
Basically, the law protects older workers who are affected by an unfavorable employment decision solely because of their age (ages 40 and up)--it does not protect older workers who are fired for cause (like poor job performance, being late or rude, etc.). So the first thing this person's boss needs to do is to begin documenting all instances where this person's job performance was poor. For example, if the guy is clocking in late, save copies of the card used for the time clock. If he refuses to do his share, get an account of the incident from several employees who corroborate one another. If he's rude to a customer, get the customer's story, along with their name and contact info. You get the idea. If he's as bad as you suggest, this shouldn't take long. The important thing is to document and corroborate evidence thoroughly--and write everything down.
Then, call the guy in for a private meeting to discuss his performance, and confront him with the evidence you've collected. Give him a chance to offer a rebuttal, but make it clear that his performance is unacceptable and must change (there may be a legitimate reason for his slackness, and to protect yourself from unintentionally violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, you need to ask). Tell him that any repeat of the incident in a specified period (usually 4 weeks or so) will result in further disciplinary action.
If he turns his performance around, great! If not, have another meeting. Again, confront him with the evidence of poor behavior, let him know that it's unacceptable, and that any reoccurence for a longer period (say, 6-8 weeks) will merit further disciplinary action--probation is longer this time. Also, have a letter typed up that spells out what's happened so far, and the terms you've laid out. Make the guy sign it before he leaves the meeting, and put it in his employment folder--let him know it's now a part of his "permanent record."
If there's no reoccurrence, great! But let's say the guy blows it. I'd have one last meeting, letting the guy know that the next time poor behavior occurs, he's fired. Again, record everything in a letter and have him sign it before leaving. If he goofs up, make good on your promise.
For the sake of argument, let's say this guy's drinking buddies urge him to sue for age discrimination. To have any chance of success, the guy would have to go to his local EEOC representative, present his evidence, and ask for their endorsement (most judges will not hear a discrimination case that isn't endorsed by the EEOC). EEOC officers are overworked and pretty savvy, so they can sniff out (and reject) the spurious cases pretty quickly. But let's say the guy is a smooth talker who spins a convincing tale. The boss will get a call from the EEOC officer asking for employer's side of the story. All you have to do is present the documentation and timeline you've carefully collected, including the signed letters. I guarantee the EEOC officer will be very annoyed and you'll get the last laugh, because the guy was obviously terminated for cause (i.e., because he deserved it).
If this sounds like a hassle, well...it is. But it's what you need to do to be absolutely sure that you protect your business from discrimination lawsuits. It's also important to remember that the laws are in place for good reasons, and they are one of the things that make America a great country (most countries don't have EEO laws). Fortunately, having a meeting or two is enough to either straighten out most employees, or to prompt them to leave. Good luck!