Anti-ageism legislation triggers widespread fear of costly claims

The new age regulations are the most feared piece of workplace legislation ever to hit employers, a leading trade unionist warned last week.

Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights at the TUC, told delegates at a fringe event: “Employers are fearful of costly tribunals and will struggle to get it right. Ageism in the workplace is still quite acceptable.”

Sam Mercer, director of the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), described the new laws, due to come into force in less than two weeks, as “difficult, tricky and complex” for employers.

She said that many organisations were going to make serious mistakes in trying to comply because “they are not going to know what is right and what is wrong”.

“The EFA is working hard to show employers that age legislation isn’t political correctness gone mad,” she said. “It’s not just about taking the date of birth off someone’s application form. Getting policies right is not a problem, but changing people’s attitudes is.”

Mercer warned employers to be aware of “doom-mongering” lawyers advising on changes to policies. Trade union activists in the audience also warned businesses and members to be wary of “bloodsucking sharks”. “We’re going to end up with solicitors making an awful lot of money out of the age legislation,” added Chris Elliot, a union representative at Amicus.

Claims from older staff familiar with the new laws are worrying employers the most, according to Mercer. But Rita Donaghy, chair of conciliation service Acas, said younger employees were just as likely to be discriminated against. “I don’t think we should underestimate the impact this [legislation] will have on younger workers too,” she said.

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