Sam Mercer’s warning that awareness of the new age legislation is still worryingly low should come as no surprise to employers. But I suppose the real question they should ask themselves is: does it really matter?
Mercer herself admits that the HR community is “pretty clued-up” about the regulations – now less than a week away – even if staff are generally still in the dark. So as long as HR professionals have got their company’s processes and policies in order, is it really a concern that employees are less au fait with the laws?
The answer – whether you like it or not – is yes. Changing what’s written in the company handbook and removing date-of-birth questions from application forms are all practical measures you can take to tackle ageism, but the battle for hearts and minds is more difficult.
HR could adopt a “shock and awe” tactic, blitzing employees with all manner of literature, e-mails and desktop briefings. But obvious questions remain over the effectiveness of that approach. After all, it’s easy to press the delete button or to drop that piece of paper in the bin.
Lawyers are warning it is vital employers make staff aware of their own personal liability and provide guidance on the laws, as it could help minimise the costs of future legal claims. Any staff training might be taken into account at tribunal as part of an organisation’s defence.
So there you have it – HR now has a compelling argument to justify its spend on awareness training, open its doors to the rest of the organisation and stamp out age discrimination.
Will we all arrive at the office, factory or shop next Monday with the workplace a fundamentally different place? Of course not. Will the new regulations be a change for the better long-term? Absolutely. Has HR done its homework? We will have to wait and see.