Age discrimination regulations are the biggest piece of legislation to hit the UK this decade. In a year’s time it will be illegal to refuse someone a job, training, promotion or benefits on the grounds of age.
We have known for years that the legislation has been on its way, and the implications have been debated and analysed at considerable length. Yet now that the law is nearly upon us, very few companies have converted all this talk into action.
A survey from Eversheds and Cranfield says that four in five companies have done nothing to prepare for it, while the Employers Forum on Age claims firms are “desperate” for more information (see page 1).
The government has to take a large chunk of the blame for this because some of the draft regulations, particularly those on pension-scheme exemptions and long-service benefits, are still far too vague.
There is still a week to get your voice heard (the consultation ends on 17 October), so it would be a good idea for employers to push the government for guidance as comprehensive as that issued for the Disability Discrimination Act.
But the fact there are still some grey areas in the regulations shouldn’t stop companies from taking action on the parts that are black and white.
As a start, HR should be reviewing employment policies and procedures – particularly those for recruitment, retirement and redundancy – to ensure they are age-compliant. Toughest of all will be tackling the stereotypical attitudes to age that are ingrained in UK workplace culture.
If the UK follows Ireland’s lead – where age discrimination was made illegal in 1998 – then ageism could account for one in five discrimination claims.
The Eversheds/Cranfield research shows that 41% of people surveyed felt they had suffered age discrimination. Come next year, companies without age policies in place could find themselves on a quick march to a tribunal.