Age discrimination in the UK is already illegal ahead of the October implementation date, employment law experts have warned.
The government published the final age regulations last week, but a recent ruling in the European Court of Justice case of Mangold v Helm suggests that age discrimination is already against the law.
Mangold was a 54-year-old German man employed on a fixed term contract in a permanent full-time job.
According to German law, fixed term contracts are unlawful unless they can be objectively justified. However, if the employee is over 52, that requirement does not apply.
The European Court of Justice decided this contravenes the EU Equal Treatment Directive, even though it does not have to be implemented until the end of 2006.
It said that, in general terms, legislation that lets employers treat people differently because of their age “offends the principle” in
international law of eliminating discrimination on the basis of age.
The European Court of Justice ruled that national courts must set aside any provision of national law which conflicts with the directive even before the period for implementation has expired.
Owen Warnock, employment law partner at Eversheds law firm, said the case was a strong warning to UK employers.
“The government has done a great deal to create a practical framework for the [age] regulations. But in theory this ruling means that in the UK employees can already bring claims for age discrimination,” he said.
“So the message to business is clear – there is no time to delay preparation any further.”
Warnock said the ruling could pave the way for other EU directives to be treated in a similar fashion, regardless of whether they had been implemented by member states.