Employers Forum on Age dismisses claims of landmark decision after Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust reinstates older worker sacked day before age regulations came into force

The Employers Forum on Age (EFA) has warned employers that the decision of a hospital to reinstate a worker sacked a day before the age regulations came into force must not be misinterpreted.

The forum was repsonding to union claims that a female worker had secured a ‘landmark’ victory in what was believed to be the first age discrimination case.

Ann Southcott, 66, a clerical worker in the therapy department at Treliske Hospital in Truro, Cornwall was dismissed from her job on 30 September 2006 – a day before the new age regulations came into force. She was told she would receive 11 weeks’ pay rather than the 11 months’ pay she would have been entitled to if she had been dismissed one day later.

But, in an out-of-court settlement, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has now agreed to reinstate Southcott with back pay from October with no loss of service.

Rachel Krys, head of communications at the EFA, said: “It is vitally important that the decision of the trust isn’t misinterpreted.

“Under the current age discrimination regulations employers are lawfully allowed to force people of 65 or over to retire as long as the correct process is adhered to – and this case doesn’t change that fact.

“It is vital that employers understand the new laws and follow the retirement process to the letter to avoid breaking the law.”

Last year, as a result of a £32m overspend, the trust announced a review of the therapy department where Southcott worked. About 30 health workers, all aged over 65, were given notice in May to run out one day short of new legislation. 

Dave Prentis, general secretary of public sector union Unison, which backed Southcott’s claim, said: “This is a fair and just outcome to a sorry chapter in the hospital’s history. There is no doubt that the decision to dismiss Ann Southcott was fuelled by a debt crisis at the trust.

“Age discrimination is completely unacceptable and I hope that this decision will give new heart to other people who have lost their jobs because of their age.”

John Watkinson, the trust’s chief executive, said: “We have worked together with Unison to review the decision taken to curtail contracts of employment last year for a small group of employees over 65. 

“A number of individuals returned to work for the trust following a short break in service and all will have their continuity of service restored.”

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