Employers are becoming “desperate” for more information and guidance on age discrimination laws, the leading pressure group on age has warned.
The Employers Forum on Age (EFA) said organisations were running out of time to prepare for the new legislation, which could leave employers “dangerously exposed” to discrimination claims next year.
The consultation on age regulations ends next week on 17 October, with the government committed to introducing legislation in October 2006.
But with time running out, many of the new regulations remain unfinished, while the government has indicated that even those published may be subject to change, said Sam Mercer, director of the EFA.
“UK employers are getting desperate,” she told Personnel Today. “They were promised two years to prepare, yet age laws will be introduced in less than 12 months, and still the regulations remain incomplete.”
Mercer said there was still no information on transitional arrangements for planned retirement and redundancy schemes that straddle October 2006 and no details about pension scheme exemptions or when the final regulations will be published.
“How are employers supposed to approach sensitive negotiations over pay and terms and conditions, including redundancy arrangements, when they don’t know what they will have to do to comply with the law?” she asked.
In an EFA survey of its members, which include some of the UK’s largest employers, 59% were worried about the lack of guidance on the new laws.
The CBI expressed concern about the DTI’s failure to exempt all length-of-service benefits from the draft regulations. Companies that currently reward long-serving employees through enhanced sick pay and holiday provisions could risk discrimination claims from younger staff who have been employed for less time.
A DTI spokeswoman said the department had commissioned conciliation service Acas to produce guidance early in the New Year. She also said the regulations were scheduled to be laid before parliament in the spring.
Separate research by law firm Eversheds and the Cranfield School of Management shows that the threat of potential claims is very real. Their survey of 1,000 senior executives reveals that 41% believe they have already been discriminated against on the grounds of age.
Feedback from the profession
Alan Evans, HR director, NEC Europe
“Web-based recruitment methods can exclude some people from getting through the door if they are unable to use the technology.”
Hazel Stuart, personnel director, Girls Day School Trust
“[The draft regulations] propose that an employee can make a request to continue working as late as six weeks before the planned retirement date. By this time a replacement will normally have been appointed, so this is totally unworkable.”
Richard Parker, HR director, Capio Healthcare
“Employers need to look beyond the obvious, such as recruitment and selection policies. The draft regulations are still a little vague.”
Olivia Cooper, group HR director, AEA Technology
“I have been exploring the introduction of flexible benefits as one way of avoiding discrimination and a lawyer has confirmed it is an excellent way of addressing this.”
There is still time to respond to the DTI consultation. go to www.dti.gov.uk/er/equality/age.htm
See the October issue of Employers’ Law magazine for more on this issue.