We all have a few in our office: workers who don’t understand technology, have no interest in learning to use technology or are (secretly) afraid of technology. They eschew computers except for the most basic tasks, maybe they print out emails, they hunt and peck on keyboards, they either use a “flip phone” or don’t use a cell phone at all. If you are one of these folks, you may want to stop reading now, well, I’m sorry but you’re going the way of the Dodo…
In some circumstances, a lack of tech savvy isn’t a problem. Maybe your employees can get by with their current technology skills. In most cases, though, technology is not only ever-present, but a necessity. Can your professional services firm afford to have professionals with no knowledge of social media? Can your warehouse continue working efficiently without a computerized inventory system? Can your salespersons succeed without utilizing the massive amounts of computerized data available to target potential clients? I submit that the answer is simple: no.
Here’s the problem: the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids an employer from taking an adverse employment action based on an employee’s age, specifically for employees over age 40. Now I like to avoid generalizations, but most of the technophobic folks in your organization are likely over age 40. As a result, in an adverse employment action due to a lack of tech-savvy, the employee will likely be over 40, and the ADEA invoked any employment action needs to be carefully considered.
First, you should offer training to your employees. You should probably already be doing this anyway, but maybe some of your employees need a little extra attention. Whether its in-house training or something offered by another organization, training is a great way to keep employees who are performing well but would benefit from a productivity boost by learning to properly use technology. Make sure that the training is properly tailored to the employee’s position, and embrace their suggestions for additional training topics. Sometimes, your employees have a better grasp on what they need to learn than you. Not only should you offer training, but you should document the offering as well. In the event you need to let someone go, you want proof that you offered them training and an opportunity to fix the problem.
Do Your Homework
Don’t just assume that everyone in your organization would benefit from greater technological savvy. I’m a huge proponent of technology, and I believe most employees will be more productive if their organization provides the correct tools and provides training on usage. However, that’s not always the case. It’s up to you to evaluate each position or employee to determine whether a certain level of tech-savvy is required and what particular prowess is needed. You’ll need to back up any choices with hard evidence, in case the employee refuses training and needs to be let go. Hard evidence that an employee’s productivity was significantly reduced due to a conscious decision to eschew training would go a long way to proving age was not your consideration in an adverse employment decision.
Consider a Severance Agreement
If you have an employee who has no interest in improving their technology knowledge-base, and you determine that a termination is required, consider using a severance agreement. A severance agreement will soften the blow for the employee and can provide you with some protection based on an ADEA or other federal law claim. In return for a few more paychecks, you can avoid an expensive lawsuit (and possibly more expensive verdict). Be careful with the language disclaiming an ADEA claim though, because the ADEA has specific requirements. In fact, calling in counsel to assist is almost essential nowadays with the NLRB stepping in to muddy the waters.
So, in all likelihood, knowledge regarding the proper use of technology is now a requirement in your organization. Think training first, then evaluate the situation and finally, protect the organization if a termination must happen.