Sometime in the next couple weeks, I will become a grandfather for the first time. This post in not about that definition of grandfather.
Most HR folks are familiar with the use of the word “grandfather” to suggest that certain employees are not impacted by a new rule or benefit change, but all future employees are. The term originated in the US when a grandfather clause was used by southern US states to allow people whose ancestors (grandfathers) had the right to vote before the civil war to be exempted from the new literacy and property restrictions in voting. This was eventually overturned by the US Supreme Court.
Grandfathering happens today in many instances when companies change policies, or when companies and unions agree to contract changes, providing that current employees remain protected by older clauses.
I’ve seen reasonable and crazy applications of this concept.
Reasonable: An employer decides to move from a conventional pension plan to a defined contribution plan, and gives the current employees a choice to remain in the pension plan or shift to the plan that runs complementary to its 401(k) plan. All future employees will be part of the defined contribution plan.
Crazy: A manufacturing facility that has an on-site chlorine tank decides that all employees working in the immediate area must be able to effectively wear a face-fit respirator in case of an accidental release of this extremely dangerous gas. This means that employees with beards cannot get an acceptable, safe fit of the respirator. The union argues that current employees with beards should be exempted from this requirement, and that only employees who currently have no beards or future employees should have to meet this requirement.
Grandfathered for the right to die in the event of an accidental chlorine leak.
Nice, huh? And, as a near-grandfather, I think we need a different term for this practice.