Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) August 3, 2012 – Employers need careful documentation when reorganizing or reducing staff, or they risk running afoul of the law.
“To avoid charges of ageism, or age discrimination, there are rules a company needs to follow if their reorganization or consolidation process might affect older workers,” said Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P.C. During a company restructure, older workers may feel they are losing their job because of their age and that management chose to reorganize so they would have the chance to let them go.
“If management is smart, they will structure any layoffs or reduction in their workforce in a business-like manner, stating clear reasons for all changes and/or the blending of positions. They need to also be able to demonstrate why another worker was given the new position, based on her or her qualifications,” recommended Coffey.
If someone in a company makes off-the-cuff remarks about age, it would be harder for them to prove that age was not a determining factor in letting an older worker go. A case in point is Duffy v. Belk, Inc., No. 11-1757, 4th Cir., 2012, where a 63-year-old Customer Relationship Manager was re-organized out of a job.
“What happened in this case is the store merged the Customer Relationship Manager role with the job of company Vice President and then offered the newly creation position to the woman currently holding the VP job,” outlined Coffey. “The woman was 43 years old. Although the man was offered other jobs, he turned them down for two reasons: they did not pay what he had been making, and they were lower-ranked positions. He sued the company, alleging he should have been offered the new position and that he did not get it because of age discrimination.”
When the case got to court, the process the company had used to reduce its workforce was explained in great detail. It involved combining common job functions and reducing duplicate roles. The woman offered the new position had an MBA and relevant job experience in an area where the company wanted to expand in the future.
There had been no criticism of older workers in the company, no remarks about bringing in younger blood or no further incidents that indicated to the court that the company was antagonistic toward older managers. The court discharged the man’s case.
“This case could just as easily have gone the other way, with a win for the plaintiff, if there had been any indications of age discrimination,” added Coffey. “If an employer wants to treat employees fairly when it comes to reorganizing or reducing staff, they need to have every step and reason carefully documented.”
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit employmentlawcounsel.com.
THE COFFEY LAW OFFICE, P.C.
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Chicago, IL 60654