All workers forced to retire since 1 October this year have been urged to lodge age discrimination claims after a High Court ruling last week.
A senior judge ruled the challenge to the government’s mandatory retirement age, brought by baby-boomers’ group Heyday, should be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
This leaves employers open to paying compensation to anyone they force into retirement before a ruling is made – which might not be for another two years.
Andrew Harrop, the head of policy at Heyday, told Personnel Today: “Employees should make applications now if they have been forced into retirement. The claims will be put on hold pending a European judgment. My advice to employers is not to take the risk and not to force people to retire.”
Heyday claims that up to 25,000 people are retired against their will each year.
Owen Warnock, employment law partner at Eversheds law firm, said public sector organisations were at extra risk of claims as they were bound by the “intent” of European law, while private sector firms could argue that they complied with UK law.
Sam Mercer, director of the Employers Forum on Age, “strongly recommended” that employers consider operating without a retirement age.
The judge referred the case to the ECJ after the government agreed with Heyday that its transposition of a European law should be scrutinised. The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations came into force in the UK on 1 October to implement the EU Framework Directive from 2000.
Heyday told the High Court that the UK law was illegal, as it discriminates against people on the grounds of age.
Robert Allen QC, speaking on behalf of Heyday, argued that people aged 65 or over were given “second-class status”, as they could be retired without explanation. People under 65 had to be given sound grounds for dismissal, he said.
The government countered that, from the age of 65, people were “not in comparison” with under-65s, as they received a state pension. Solicitors from both parties will now thrash out the terms of the referral and report back to the High Court in January.
Alex Ferguson champions Heyday’s cause
A Heyday representative stood outside the High Court in London last week, proudly clutching a letter personally signed by Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Manchester United manager is a fitting champion of Heyday’s cause, having won plenty of trophies since pulling back from the brink of retirement in 2002.
Ferguson wrote: “I sincerely believe that people should be able to work past retirement age if they are fit, healthy and able to do their job.”
He was far from the only voice supporting the case.
After the hearing, age discrimination campaigner Joyce Glasser said: “The government has said over-65s are not comparable to under-65s because they can scrape by on a state pension. It is saying: ‘Let them vegetate – every so often we will send them a cheque for fuel, and that’s enough.'”