Firing an older worker

I have been presented with quite a quandary both as a H/R Professional and the Paralegal on staff. Now, before we enter debates about Older Worker Protection, Age Discrimination, and all, let's just take the stance that I've obviously completed all my research and concluded nothing. That's why I'm posting here.

We have an 80-year old worker who is as sweet as can be. The problem is that she can barely walk anymore and has to lean on walls for support. She works in an industrial-type position. Our theory is that, if she falls and breaks a hip or cracks her head open, we are liable under worker's compensation rules because it happened during the course of work and arose out of employment. The problems are:

(1) She is obviously prone to falls at her age and has nearly done so on several occasions.

(2) She has no attendance problems and no disciplinary issues.

(3) She is still technically performing her job functions since the job description doesn't list any physical requirements or that work be performed at a certain rate or speed.

(4) She has stated that she is only going to work another year because of the insurance until her (much-younger) husband is eligible for Medicare.

We're kind of approaching this at an angle that we want to do what's in her best interest. However, I can't do it from a Reduction in Force angle because that's not true. I can't do it from a "you're not living up to the expectations of your job" because that's not true. You obviously can't make a person sign a waiver saying, "If you break your hip, it's your fault". LOL. I literally can't think of anything with the exception of sitting down and talking to her about "retiring" in one year's time or offering one year's salary to retire now but I don't think executive management would approve the price tag associated with that.

Any thoughts, suggestions, or ideas??


  • 5 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I think you are setting yourself up for a lawsuit. This, to me, is like the pregnant employee whose boss decided it wasn't safe for her in her current work environment and moved her. She sued and won. It was not his decision to make regarding what was safe, it was hers.

    If you term her because you are worried about a lawsuit that is a voiloation of the ADA ( you are perceiving her as having a disability with walking). That said, I understand your concerns. I am not sure though, that you should even approach her. Again, that is laying a foundation for a lawsuit.

    I think the best you can do is make sure the areas she walks are safe, and that perhaps there is plenty for her to hold onto as she goes from place to place. You might also look for ways to accomodate her so that she doesn't have to go from place to place very often.

    I will let others comment here on the best way you can approach her if you decide that you need to.

    Good luck!
  • I agree with Nae, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Would you consider developing a voluntary retirement program, where you provide them with some sort of incentive for early retirement? Maybe 1 year of subsidized medical coverage?
  • Depending on the state, it's not a given that a broken hip would be a work comp injury. It may depend on what she was doing at the time. Chances are probably good for WC, but may not be absolute.
  • Agree with the others, and like the possibility of a early retirement incentive program. . of course that doe not mean she would have to accept and there is a price tag. We have done this but with a defined class of employees. . not sure you could do with just one person

    Our most chronologically gifted ee is 90. . so I understand, but would definitely not approach. Suppose if she does falls you could do fitness for duty, but hopefully you won't have to go there. Tough situation for sure.
  • I agree there doesn't seem to be anything you can do in this situation, but, to keep it from becoming a recurring problem, I believe I would update all my job descriptions to include reasoning ability & physical demands. Good luck!
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