Aanalysis: Is UK ready for new age laws?

Lawyers and employers have been debating the impact of age discrimination legislation for years, but with just one month to go until the laws come into force, it appears that few employers have taken any definitive action.

The new laws – which will outlaw age discrimination from 1 October 2006 – have been in the pipeline for several years. But, despite repeated warnings from lawyers and a plethora of research projects, preparation has been poor.

Despite the lack of time, many experts feel that a huge culture change is needed if employers are to cope with the new rules.

Greg Campbell, a partner at law firm Faegre & Benson, argued that while many firms seem to be talking about the changes, very few have made any concrete plans or preparations.

“There’s still a long way to go before companies will be ready for this,” he said. “Although many employers are aware it is about to happen, not many seem to have taken steps to get ready for it. Without a doubt there will be companies that are going to get caught out, because I think there will be a slew of claims once the new laws come in.”

According to Campbell, most managers will need to undergo a fundamental shift in attitude on how they think about age in the workplace.

Research by recruitment agency Adecco found that HR departments were drastically unprepared for the impending laws, with only 13% citing this as a risk to the business. Despite this, 60% of respondents believe that one of the biggest risks for their companies is legislative and regulatory compliance.

“It’s interesting that HR managers don’t seem to view diversity and specifically the Age Discrimination Regulations as a direct business risk,” said Bridget Wood, a partner at law firm Tarlo Lyons. “HR clearly sees responding to legislation as a big part of their role, but there seems to be confusion over the ultimate risk to their organisations.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has been desperately urging employers to do more to tackle age discrimination before the law is changed, and recently issued research on best practice across nine sectors.

A recent TUC report highlighted huge problems around the recruitment and retention of older staff, with more than one million 50- to 65-year-olds unable to find work. TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said employers must be far more innovative about age, or risk serious business problems.

“By refusing to retain and recruit older workers who want to work, employers are accelerating the demographic timebomb the economy is resting on,” she said. “Companies need to ditch the tired stereotypes.”

Meanwhile, many employers may have been ignoring the other end of the spectrum. A poll by Royal & Sun Alliance found that one in seven young workers had been discriminated against because of their age.

Time is running out, but it seems that many companies still have lots to do before the clock finally stops ticking.


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