Anti-ageism laws: Are you ready?

As Personnel Today revealed last month, UK employers fear October’s age discrimination laws will have a greater impact on their business than any other form of anti-discrimination legislation.

And now the final draft of the regulations has been published, organisations are busy putting the final touches to their working practices to ensure they don’t fall foul of the law.

The Department for Trade and Industry has recommended that employers review their employment practices in advance of the age discrimination regulations. This means that organisations will not only be better prepared, but will also enjoy a range of business benefits, including reduced recruitment and training costs, increased staff morale and higher productivity gained through age-diverse practices.

But which processes should you reassess in anticipation of the new legislation, and at what stage should your organisation be? Here, Age Positive highlights the main employment areas affected, and outlines what framework you should have reached by 1 October.

Preparation

If you haven’t already carried out a review of your current practices, the first step is to agree who should take this forward. Depending on your company size, this could be at director or owner level, or carried out by the HR or training department.

Once this has been decided, everyone who is involved should be informed (HR officers, line managers, supervisors or shop-floor representatives) and timescales should be published to ensure employees are fully aware of the process. Staff should also be given clear contact points for queries or concerns, and information should be freely available.

Cover your bases

The following areas will give you an idea of how to shape your policies ahead of the legislation. If you haven’t made these changes yet, here are some examples of what you should be aiming for within the next six months.

Recruitment:



  • Don’t use ageist language in advertisements – phrases such as ‘applicants should be 25-35 years of age’, ‘young graduates’ and ‘mature person’ are discriminatory.
  • Specifications must focus on job needs only. Unnecessary standards for experience, personal qualities or qualifications must be removed from your job ads.
  • Publicise vacancies to attract a mixed-age response. Use newspapers, magazines, trade publications, free papers, the internet, jobcentres and voluntary organisations.
  • Personal details need to be separated when sifting applications. Only re-introduce these details at the end of the sifting process.
  • Monitor the age groups of candidates shortlisted, interviewed and appointed. This clarifies what may be happening in the recruitment process.

Selection:



  • Select candidates on the basis of skills and abilities. Ensure the process is fair, consistent and does not discriminate against a particular age group.
  • Only ask job-related questions. Mark candidates against selection criteria to help decision-making, and monitor fairness of the recruitment process.
  • Use a mixed-age interview panel. This will reduce the possibility of age bias.
  • Do not make assumptions about capability or medical fitness based purely on age.

Training and development:



  • Make promotion opportunities available to all staff – either their ability to do the job now, or after suitable development.
  • Focus on candidate skills, abilities and potential. Ensure the promotion process does not rule out candidates because of their age.
  • Use performance reviews to improve decisions on career advancement.
  • Managers must not introduce age cut-offs related to training or development.
  • Employees of all ages should be actively involved in identifying their own needs.
  • Monitor the take-up of training and development from different ages.
  • Ensure there is no minimum or maximum cut-off age for promotion.
  • Monitor ages of unsuccessful candidates to ensure age bias does not occur.
  • Rates of pay should be linked to the experience of the individual, not their age.
  • Clearly communicate to all staff that age is not a barrier.
  • Include ageism in all your anti-harassment policies.

Redundancy:



  • Ensure incentives for voluntary redundancy are not age-biased.
  • Use job-related criteria, rather than age.
  • Alternatives to redundancy should always be considered, such as part-time working, natural wastage, redeployment to other parts of the company, job-sharing or career breaks.

Retirement

From October 2006, compulsory retirement below the age of 65 will be unlawful – you will need to justify any enforced retirements below that age. If you were planning to have a compulsory retirement age, consider whether it would be better for your business and staff to alter this ‘cliff-edge’ approach to retirement.

You should aim to:



  • base your retirement policy on business needs, and provide as much choice as possible for individuals. Think about the loss to the company of skills and abilities.
  • positively consider requests from employees who want to stay on at work.
  • think about possible options of flexible retirement schemes or part-time working.

And remember…

Whatever preparations you make now, you cannot guarantee compliance with age legislation when it is finally introduced. If you have any doubts, seek professional advice on any specific legal or financial matters relating to age compliance.

Before and after: How different is the final version of the age regulations?

The basic framework remains the same, but there are some significant changes from the draft regulations published in July last year:

Retirement

The ‘default’ retirement age of 65 remains, and it will not constitute age discrimination to retire someone at 65 or, if the normal retirement age is above 65, at that age. Employers who set their retirement age below 65 will be required to justify this objectively, abolish it or increase it to at least 65. Those with a retirement age over 65 will not have to change or justify it. Crucially for professional partnerships, however, this retirement ‘exception’ will not apply to partners.

Retirement procedure: employer notification and the duty-to-consider procedure

One change is that an employee’s request to continue working must now be made at least three months (but not more than six months) before the intended retirement date. The time limits in the draft regulations were six weeks and one year respectively.

Retirement dismissals

The provisions regarding dismissals for retirement have been completely reworked to make it clear that it will not be unfair to dismiss an employee for a genuine retirement, provided certain procedural requirements (see above) are met. The final regulations also clearly set out where retirement cannot be the potentially fair reason for dismissal.

Statutory redundancy pay and enhanced redundancy packages

The lower and upper age limits on the right to a statutory redundancy payment will be removed with effect from 1 October 2006.
The final regulations set out that it will not be age discrimination for employers to operate a redundancy pay scheme that mirrors the statutory scheme, but is more generous in certain specified respects.

Pay and benefits dependent on length of service

The provisions on service-related benefits have been completely redrafted. As was the case with the draft regulations, there is a blanket exemption for length-of-service requirement of five years or less.

Pensions

The final regulations are much clearer. In relation to contributions to personal pension schemes, employers will be able to make different contributions on the basis of age.

For more information

Age Positive has produced materials to assist employers with their age policies and provide details on age legislation. These include:

Business checklist



  • A simple-to-follow, three-step business checklist to identify and eliminate age discrimination in the workplace.

20 facts



  • A factsheet detailing the 20 top facts employers need to know about forthcoming age legislation.
  • The Age Partnership Group, a coalition of business organisations, government departments and employee representatives, has produced a range of free, practical information to help employers implement good age practices and be ready for legislation.

‘Be Ready’ newsletter



  • Features examples of how legislation may impact on areas such as insurance, pensions and specific industries.

‘Be Ready’ personnel organiser



Our experts

A campaign run by the Department for Work and Pensions responsible for strategy and policies to support people making decisions about working and retirement. The Age Positive campaign promotes the benefits of employing a mixed-age workforce that includes older and younger people.


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