Telecoms firm Ericsson is risking a host of age discrimination claims after it offered a voluntary redundancy package to about 1,000 of its employees in Sweden aged between 35 and 50.
The company said that the purpose of the programme was to correct an imbalanced age structure. The group said that it wanted to employ more young people to “not to miss a generation in 10 years’ time”.
But employment lawyers believe that the move could leave the company open to potential compensation claims from people claiming the practice is biased against older workers. EU-wide age discrimination legislation becomes law in October, but a ruling earlier this year has led some experts to warn it is already in effect because of legal precedent.
Michael Ball, employment partner at law firm Halliwells, told PersonnelToday.com: “If there is an imbalance in the make up of the overall staff age structure and an employer waits until after the introduction of age discrimination laws it leaves itself open to claims for compensation. The employer may attempt to justify its actions, but this is likely to be highly contentious given the purpose of the legislation.
“In practice when age discrimination comes into force it is likely to be a difficult job to persuade an employment tribunal that there was a real danger of the current age imbalance having an adverse impact on the business in the future,” he added.
Ericsson is planning to recruit 900 new employees up to the age of 30 in the next three years. The average age of Ericsson’s employees in Sweden is currently 41, compared with 39 for the company’s staff worldwide.
Ericsson’s age structure had become biased towards the 35-50 age group after a dramatic restructuring programme between 2000 and 2002.
Employees aged between 35 and 50 with a minimum of six years’ service will be eligible for a voluntary redundancy package comprising 12 to 18 months’ salary, a £3,700 payout and the chance to participate in a career-change programme.