Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) September 27, 2012 – There is a right way and a wrong way to issue severances. Employers need to follow a strict protocol, or run afoul of the law.
“To avoid a charge of ageism, or age discrimination, there are rules a company needs to follow if their reorganization or consolidation process ends up affecting older workers. The older worker may well feel they are losing their job because of their age, and that management to reorganize to have the chance to let them go,” remarked Timothy Coffey, 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.
“If a company has their head on straight, they will structure any layoffs, or reduction in their workforce, by approaching it strictly in a business-like manner, laying out 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 qualifications,” Coffey explained.
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 the 63-year-old customer relationship manager was re-organized out of a job.
“What happened in this case is that the store merged his job with the job of company vice president, and then offered the newly creation position to the woman currently holding the VP job. The lady was 43-years-old. Although the man was offered other jobs, he turned them down, for two reasons: they did not pay what he was used to making, and were lesser-ranked jobs. He sued the company, alleging he should have been offered the new position, and that he did not get it because of age discrimination,” Coffey outlined.
When the case got to court, the process the furniture company had used to reduce their workforce was explained in great detail. It involved combining common job functions and reducing duplication in the workplace. The woman was offered the newly blended job, as she had an MBA and credible job experience, in an area where the company wanted to expand in the future.
There had been no criticism of older workers in the workplace, remarks made about bringing in younger blood, or any other incidents that indicated to the court that they were antagonistic towards older managers. The court discharged the man’s case.
“However, 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. If an employer wants to treat their employees fairly when it comes to reorganizing or reducing their workforce, they need to have every step and reason carefully documented,” suggested Coffey.
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.
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