From the September 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

Are you in the midst of layoffs and have a manager who isn't cutting it? It may be time for him to go; before he does, check with your lawyer to prevent a possible lawsuit. Legally, it might be better to bump that employee down to another position. A recent age-discrimination case has added another ruling that could hurt employers. Firing a senior employee and hiring a younger person for a lower-level job without offering it to the pink-slipped exec could spell trouble for you.

"The message and the lesson learned in these cases is that employers should not be making decisions based on age," says Joseph Sellers, head of the civil rights practice at the Washington, DC, law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll. No longer does it take an outright discrimination case for the courts to rule against an employer. Warns Sellers, "The courts have become very sophisticated in looking at certain circumstances and recognizing discrimination, even if it's only inferred."

In workplace-speak, "the right for a manager to take a lower position as an alternative to being forced out is called a bumping right," explains Sellers. This doesn't mean you can't select someone younger for a particular job. But to stay out of court, step back and make sure there are valid business reasons that merit your decision, and that you're not letting an employee go based on age concerns. It's worth the extra time and thought.



Ellen Paris is a Washington, DC, writer and former Forbes magazine staff writer.


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