11 August 2017

Retirement for farm workers

With an ageing workforce and the ever increasing need to attract young people into the sector, succession planning is an important issue for farmers and growers. Laura Clark looks at this issue in more detail.

The default retirement age was abolished in 2011, and since then employers have often struggled to understand the extent to which they can address the issue of retirement without falling foul of age discrimination legislation. Of course, older employees can still voluntarily retire whenever they like.

It’s illegal to dismiss an older worker on the grounds of retirement unless you can objectively justify the dismissal as a proportionate response to a legitimate need. This is extremely difficult, and we certainly wouldn’t recommend this course of action without taking professional advice.

If an older person’s performance is deteriorating, then you should discuss this with them and carry out a performance management process in the same way you would with a younger person, however, be careful not to jump to the conclusion that the poor performance is linked to their age. Failure to address poor performance in older workers, because, or in the expectation that you think they will be retiring soon could be discriminatory.

While you may wish to have discussions with employees from time to time about possible retirement plans, discussions about future plans should not be limited to older workers. Having regular conversations with all employees about your expectations of them, their performance and future plans is very useful. Indeed, a helpful exercise is to ask all employees about their plans and aims for the short, medium and long term and avoid using the word “retirement”. This in turn will help you to organise training and appropriate succession plans.

Where an employee indicates that they do wish to retire in the near future, they may also mention adjusting their hours or duties in the lead up to retirement, and you can consider this at that point.

The discussions should be recorded and held for as long as there is a business need for doing so (it’s good practice to share this with the employee). It goes without saying that retirement discussions, if not properly handled, can be a high risk area.

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