Unless you’ve had a very long holiday on a desert island, you will all know about a major tranche of age discrimination legislation which comes into force this month. It will mean, for example that, advertising for a ’mature’ person to do a job or someone with a specific amount of work experience is now against the law. The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, which came into effect on October 1, make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees, trainees or job seekers because of their age. In addition all workers, regardless of age, now have the same rights in terms of training and promotion. There are also new rules regarding retirement.
It would seem the changes are long overdue as 16.6 million workers say they’ve witnessed ageist practices at work. According to the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), 31% of people said they’d worked somewhere where an older person performing exactly the same role as a younger person was paid more because of their age. Almost 21% had heard of a younger person being overlooked for promotion in favour of an older employee regardless of the younger person having more experience. And 27% of people said they’d heard of someone being employed because they were a similar age to other workers and therefore ensured a ’good team fit’.
"Ageism is endemic in our society and rife in our workplaces," said Sam Mercer, director of the EFA. "This legislation will help provide protection for people who feel that they have been discriminated against on grounds of their age. But as we’ve seen with gender and race legislation in the past, a change in the law marks just the beginning of a long journey towards tackling social prejudices." Mercer added that getting people to tackle their own ageist attitudes can be difficult but was definitely needed.
- A national default retirement age of 65 is being introduced. Employers will no longer be able to force a worker to retire before then unless it is objectively justified and is a genuine occupational requirement. It will be necessary for employers to provide evidence if challenged; assertions alone will not be good enough.
- All employees have the right to request to work beyond the age of 65 and employers are obliged to consider this although they do not have to agree to the request. Procedure involves an employee/employer meeting with the employee having the right to appeal.
- Employers must give at least six months notice to employees about their intended retirement date so individuals can plan for their retirement and be confident that retirement is not being used as a cover for unfair dismissal.
- There is no longer an upper age limit for unfair dismissal and redundancy. Older workers have the same rights as younger ones to claim unfair dismissal or receive a redundancy payment unless there is a genuine retirement.
- The regulations allow pay and non-pay benefits to continue which depend on length of service requirements of five years or less or which recognise and reward loyalty and experience and motivate staff.
- Age limits are removed for statutory sick pay, statutory maternity pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory paternity pay so that legislation for all four statutory payments applies in exactly the same way.
- Lower and upper age limits in the statutory redundancy scheme are removed but will leave the current age-banded system in place.
- The regulations provide exemptions for many age-based rules in occupational pension schemes.
ACAS provides advice on age issues - call 08457 474747 or log onto www.acas.org.uk.
Jill Lewis, of Lewis Forecourts, runs four sites in North Wales:
"This is just an extra thing for us to think about along with all the other legislation. It’s a bit of a minefield but I don’t think it will make too much difference to us. I’ve got three older members of staff who are already over 65. You do need to bear in mind that some older people might not want to work eight-hour shifts or be happy to come in at 5am. It is very difficult for employers.
"In general though, I do prefer middle-aged people as they tend to be more stable than younger workers. I haven’t ever had a policy of getting rid of people at 65. If they’re good at their job and are still willing to work hard then it hasn’t been an issue."
Paul Sykes, managing director of Shaw Petroleum:
"We employ a number of people who are over retirement age already. If older people are fit and capable of working then they should be able to, but on the other hand we don’t want to be forced to look after people who just aren’t capable of doing the work. We want to get on with running the business in our own way without the threat of being sued.
"The main effect will be that we will have to think very carefully about how we word our advertisements from now on. It’s ridiculous to say you can’t ask for someone with experience. That’s political correctness gone barmy."
Robert Fraser, Fraser Group:
"We have a balanced work force, with some people of pensionable age and some teenagers. We’ve never discriminated on age. We’ve had people work with us until they’re 80 and they’ve been brilliant. Older people are reliable, loyal, friendly with customers and have fewer family commitments.
"There does need to be a common sense view, however, because when you’re running a business like ours and dealing with fuel you do need people who have got their wits about them, whatever their age. They need to be able to cope with the pressures of working on a busy forecourt. If a person isn’t as fit or capable as they used to be then you’ve got a problem."