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What Phased Retirement Means For Employers

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‘Phased retirement’ refers to an approach that gives employees more flexibility in how they manage the transition from full-time employment to retirement. This could be in the form of fewer working hours or responsibilities, or even a different job title.

Private pension flexibilities, such as the ability to take partial withdrawals, also provide opportunities for employees to plan and phase their retirement. It is also possible to postpone claiming the state pension, and the rules for deferral have been simplified.

As a result, many workers are choosing to work past the age of retirement, either for financial reasons or because they are simply not ready to retire.

In this guide for employers, we share practical tips on how to implement phased retirement and insight into potential legal considerations.


Can employers make employees retire? 

There is no longer a legal set retirement age for most job roles, and employees have the freedom to choose when they want to retire.

Since the compulsory retirement age was abolished in 2011, employees who want to work longer into older age are protected by law from being forced into retirement. This means employers are not generally allowed to compel employees to retire, and dismissing someone because of their age could be considered unlawful discrimination.

However, some occupations, such as the police and the armed forces, have an upper age limit imposed by law.

There are also some situations where an employer can still enforce a compulsory retirement age, provided the employer can demonstrate that a mandatory retirement age is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate goal in order to justify it.

In short, employers must have a compelling reason for imposing a retirement age, such as for health and safety reasons in a job that necessitates high levels of fitness, agility, or specific physical abilities.

In most cases, however, it will be extremely difficult for an employer to show that any upper age limit has a good business reason and is a proportionate way to achieve a legitimate goal. It will be classified as unlawful direct age discrimination if a retirement age cannot be justified.

How does phased retirement work?

The term “phased retirement” refers to the use of a variety of different working arrangements to help people transition from full-time employment to complete retirement. It’s a common human resources tool that allows full-time employees to work part-time or change their work schedule while still receiving retirement benefits.

The range of phased retirement options varies depending on the nature of the employee’s role and any existing occupational pension scheme, but can include a reduced workload or reduced working hours, with any pay reduction often supplemented by the employee receiving a portion of their pension entitlement.

While employers are not required by law to offer phased retirement options or to agree to flexible working arrangements, many occupational retirement plans will allow for partial drawdowns to help with the transition to full retirement.

The duration of any phased retirement will typically be determined by the terms of any occupational retirement plan. Phased retirement allows a pension holder to gradually reduce their working hours while also replacing the loss of income from their pension fund over a period of months or years.

Employer benefits of offering phased retirement

Employers and employees alike benefit from phased retirement schemes. Employers can benefit from phased retirement because it aids in employee retention, succession planning, and planned staff reductions. Staying in the workforce and having control over when and how they retire can provide employees with a higher standard of living in later life, as well as improve their health and wellbeing.

Your company can continue to benefit from the skills, knowledge, and experience gained by older workers by taking a flexible approach to retirement. You can create a productive, innovative, and inclusive working environment in this way, taking advantage of the opportunities and benefits that an intergenerational workforce can provide.

Early retirement & age discrimination

While eliminating the default retirement age benefits employees by allowing them to choose when they want to retire, the uncertainty for employers may have an impact on long-term business plans. It can also make it difficult to determine how best to address phased retirement without being discriminatory.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers cannot raise or prompt discussion about when an employee might retire, whether during a performance appraisal or otherwise. They cannot enquire directly with an employee about their retirement plans, or make suggestions, place pressure, or coerce people to retire.

If an employee believes they have been treated unfairly, they can file a claim for age discrimination as well as unfair or constructive dismissal if they feel they have been forced to retire.

However, you are still free to speak with an employee about their short-, medium-, and long-term goals and ambitions. You can also openly discuss full or partial retirement with an employee who has initiated the conversation without being asked or prompted.

These discussions are best carried out as part of a formal appraisal, which will assist you in determining the employee’s future work plans. This will also give you a good opportunity to sketch out your overall strategy for the company’s future and gather data for succession planning.

Even if an employee initiates a conversation about retirement, you must not respond with ageist remarks or actions, as even unintentional ageist language can be considered unlawful discrimination.

You should also make sure you don’t treat an employee unfairly because they inquired about retirement options. This includes not putting them in a disadvantageous situation, such as denying them training or promotion based on the assumption that they are leaving.

Best practice for employers

You can implement workplace policies and practises to ensure that an employee is not discriminated against because of their age by understanding the law on retirement and recognising how discrimination can arise in managing older workers by understanding the law on retirement and recognising how discrimination can arise in managing older workers.

No assumptions should be made about an older worker’s ability to learn new skills or demonstrate change. Showing that you value an older worker’s experience and expertise, as well as encouraging their career advancement, is likely to result in increased productivity.

It’s a good idea to lay the groundwork with a clear and legally compliant retirement policy that lays out the rules for retirement and informs employees about any phased retirement options available to them.

Where applicable, this policy should state that once an employee reaches pensionable retirement age, it is up to them to decide when to retire. You can look to retain and even retrain older workers by encouraging them to stay in your service if they want to, and by providing examples of any flexible working initiatives for those approaching their later career.

You should also provide equality and diversity training and guidance to managers and other employees, ensuring that you create a positive and non-discriminatory workplace culture to encourage older workers to stay.

Tackling age-related issues in the workplace

When managing older workers, you should be aware of how the protected characteristic of age is affected by or interacts with other workplace issues, in addition to phased retirement. This can include requests for flexible working hours, concerns about performance and making reasonable workplace adjustments.

Requests for flexible working hours

Employees with 26 weeks of continuous service with you have the legal right to request flexible working hours. This is a way of working that meets the needs of an employee, such as having flexible start and finish times or working fewer hours. It can also include any options for a phased retirement.

If you have a good business reason for refusing, you do not have to agree to a request; however, you must deal with the request in a reasonable manner and accommodate the employee’s needs whenever possible.

Everyone benefits from workplace flexibility, which can lead to increased productivity and employee retention. Working flexibly or part-time can also be a good way to ease into retirement, especially if an older employee has no other specific phased retirement options.

Problems with performance

It’s critical to have a clear policy in place regarding all employees’ performance and how performance issues will be handled, regardless of age.

You do not have to overlook poor performance simply because an employee is older than the rest of the team; however, you must take a consistent approach and give them a fair chance to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of performance. You should also avoid making assumptions about an older worker’s ability to improve.

You have the authority to discipline an older employee for capability and conduct issues, but you must be careful not to discriminate against them because of their age.

Reasonable adjustments 

Employers are required by law to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to ensure that employees with disabilities or long-term physical or mental health conditions are not disadvantaged in their work. This can include changes to working hours, responsibilities, or even workplace modifications.

Disability discrimination is defined as the failure to make reasonable accommodations for someone with a disability. This can include older workers who have developed a long-term age-related health condition that makes it difficult for them to perform their current job duties.


Implementing phased retirement 

The practical tips for phased retirement listed below can assist you in managing older workers in a positive and legally-compliant manner:

  • With a clear written workplace policy, provide suitable options for a phased retirement. This could include working arrangements that are more flexible.
  • Individuals will be encouraged to openly discuss their retirement plans if they are aware of the retirement opportunities available to them.
  • Use an employee’s formal appraisal to determine their future work plans by asking open-ended questions about where they see themselves in the next few years. You can only talk about leaving dates and any work arrangements leading up to retirement once the subject has been brought up. You must not, however, attempt to persuade or force an employee to retire at any time.
  • Ensure that older employees who want to stay on at your company are not discriminated against in any way, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This could include ensuring that older employees continue to receive any training or skill development that is available to other employees.
  • Address any discriminatory behaviour or ageist language used by management or employees in the workplace, and impose disciplinary measures as needed to promote a positive and non-discriminatory working environment for everyone, regardless of age.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris’ employment lawyers can help with all aspects of workforce management and planning, including guidance on retirement, settlements and contentious exits. Working closely with our specialists in HR, we provide comprehensive advice on the options open to you as an employer and practical support through discussions to minimise legal risk. For help and advice with a specific issue, speak to our experts.


Phased retirement FAQs

What is phased retirement?

Phased retirement offers eligible workers the flexibility to take part of their pension while continuing with their job.

What are the benefits of phased retirement?

For employers, phased retirement supports succession planning by retaining key employees while replacements are trained or recruited, and supports employee well-being by allowing grater flexiblilty for workers preparing to retire.

Last updated: 4 December 2021

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