Act on age before its too late

As the clock ticks ever nearer to 1 October, warnings to begin preparing for age discrimination legislation will come thick and fast. But more enlightened employers are already a long way down the line.

At a conference on the age regulations hosted by the CBI and law firm Addleshaw Goddard last month, senior HR professionals from Barclays and BT revealed how they were handling preparations.

Angus MacGregor, head of legal HR at Barclays, is the accountable executive for age discrimination at the banking giant. He admitted that he cannot afford to misjudge the impact the law will have on the company.

“If I get this wrong I think I’ll get shot,” he said.

Flippancy aside, Barclays has put a lot of work into its preparations for the regulations, beginning a company-wide initiative last September.

According to MacGregor, training is the key. “You need to educate employees with internet based mandatory training on age diversity, and have face-to-face meetings with as many line managers as you can,” he said. “Training on how to judge for competency in interviews is vital. You must challenge line manager assumptions – those that insist ‘I am a good judge of character’.”

MacGregor admitted that “all the best training in the world won’t stop the odd rogue employee”, but he said if all the policies are in place, employers should not fall foul of the regulations.

Early preparation is extremely important as “there aren’t any shortcuts”, MacGregor said. “You have to look at each policy and ask businesses why they are doing it in that way, and whether it can be objectively justified,” he said.

And the job won’t simply finish on 1 October.

“This will be a long journey,” said MacGregor. “Get the basics right now and then work on the culture for the next few years.”

But employers should not get bogged down worrying about the regulations, according to Becky Mason, people and policy manager at BT. She criticised the focus on issues such as jokes about old age in birthday cards.

“Because the regulations have been out there for a while in the European Union, it’s quite a simple piece of legislation,” she said. “There has been quite a lot of scaremongering – I don’t think we need to be going to the nth degree and go unpicking policies that work. Is a birthday card really discriminatory? Only in a culture of harassment.”

Fears about older workers ‘hanging around’ for as long as possible are also unfounded, Mason said. “Employers are concentrating on how to handle discussions about retirement,” she said.

However, Mason’s belief on the simplicity of the laws was not shared by employment relations minister, Jim Fitzpatrick. Upon being asked questions on some of the more complex nuances of the regulations, he admitted: “Having been reshuffled four weeks ago, my grasp of the laws isn’t quite there yet.”

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