Age laws prompt fear of tribunals ‘oldrush’

UK employers fear that new age discrimination laws will have a greater impact on their business than any other form of anti-discrimination legislation.

With less than seven months to go until the new laws come into force, an Employers Forum on Age (EFA) poll of 100 major UK employers found that the majority think age legislation will have a bigger impact than gender, race, disability, sexual orientation and religious discrimination laws.

The poll was conducted to coincide with last week’s long-awaited publication of the final age regulations, which have been heralded as the biggest development in UK employment law in a generation.

Sam Mercer, EFA director, said the regulations contained “no surprises” for employers. “Overall, the regulations are what we expected and pretty sensible,” she said. “But the devil is in the detail. There is no excuse now for employers not to start planning for October.”

The poll also revealed that 40% of employers believe the majority of tribunal cases will contain some element of age discrimination after 1 October.

The experience of other countries shows that this is fertile ground for litigation, according to James Davies, partner at City law firm Lewis Silkin.

The introduction of age discrimination legislation in the US resulted in a 40% increase in tribunal claims. In Ireland, age is now the basis of 19% of tribunals.

“HR professionals need to think logically about what their organisation does,” said Davies. “Clear, consistent and well-documented employment practices are vital to avoiding claims.”

In a glimpse of things to come, 44% of businesses polled by the EFA think employment lawyers, rather than older or younger workers, will be the big winners after the introduction of the new age laws.

The CBI said the government must recognise that the new law will take time to bed down as employers get used to the new requirements.

What to watch out for

  • Failure to follow specific retirement procedures will mean an unfair dismissal.
  • Compensation will be uncapped.
  • Though law will not be retrospective, existing arrangements will be allowed as evidence of ageist practices.
  • Performance management practices must be watertight to prevent claims.
  • Words and images must be appropriate in recruitment campaigns.

Feedback from the profession

Alison Hodgson, European HR and resourcing manager, Expedia

“The six-month period to help employers manage is shorter than I would have expected. This is not just a mechanical change; it is a change of mindset.

“Cultural change can take much longer than six months. The experience in Ireland shows just how difficult this can be.”

Susan Anderson, Director of HR policy, CBI

“The right for employees to request postponement of retirement will give staff the opportunity to discuss working longer.

“The procedure should also ensure employers don’t face huge increases in tribunal claims, as they have the final say over the retirement date.”

Chris Thomas, People and customers director, First Assist

“This legislation is a bit of a no-brainer because of the way the population is changing. We have to move with the market.

“But the workplace is going to look different and is going to change a lot.

“It’s going to be a management and training challenge to get these things harmonised.”

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