Compliance with age laws may be skin deep

Time has now run out. With minor exceptions, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 come into force from 1 October, and employers should already have age-proofed their HR policies.

But according to research by Personnel Today’s sister publication IRS Employment Review, while most employers have changed the wording of their job ads, few have done anything to overhaul recruitment practices.

Although the age regulations apply to almost all aspects of employment – including access to training and promotion – recruitment is likely to prove one of the most common areas for employment tribunal claims.

The survey of 99 public and private sector organisations, which together have more than 163,000 employees, found that more than three-quarters had reviewed the text of their job ads and two-thirds had adjusted the wording of their recruitment literature.

But just four out of 10 had adjusted selection criteria, and only one in three had changed their interview practices. Fifty-eight of the 99 said their organisation already complied with the legislation, but 21 admitted that they just didn’t know.

Conciliation service Acas recommends removing ages and dates of birth from forms.

Auditing policies and practices catches on…

More than seven out of 10 organisations (72%) surveyed by IRS had analysed the age profile of their workforce in the past year, and one-third of these had found areas of concern Ð most commonly an ageing workforce and a shortage of younger workers.

When the research was carried out in July 2006, about one in four (24%) had already completed a full audit of employment practices to see whether they complied with the new legislation, 42% had not completed an audit, and 27% were about to start.

But audits were overwhelmingly focused on recruitment, retirement, reward and redundancy. A significant minority had not included training, promotion, leave arrangements or the wording of job descriptions in their audit. Most failed to include performance reviews.

Even so, two-thirds (66%) had already identified potential problems in their policies – most commonly the need to change retirement arrangements (51 organisations), recruitment and selection (37) and dismissal or redundancy selection (30).

But HR is still not sure what to make of the law

HR practitioners clearly have mixed views about the age laws. The IRS survey shows that while most welcome the legislation and believe it will protect staff against discrimination, a significant minority feel it will simply increase employment tribunal claims.

One major area of concern for almost half of those surveyed is that the legislation is too complex and unclear, making it difficult to ensure that their organisation complies.

And it may come as a surprise to some to find that a significant minority of employers may make benefits less generous as they level down rather than level up what is on offer.

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