OH staff told to ignore advice on asking age of jobseekers

Occupational health (OH) practitioners should ignore guidance advising employers against asking the age of job candidates, a legal expert said last week.

Many employment lawyers have warned firms against asking for candidates’ ages, despite the new age regulations not specifically banning employers from doing so. But there are situations where an employer needs to know the age of an employee to comply with the new law, according to Joan Lewis, director of employment law consultants Joan Lewis & Associates.

Under the regulations, employers must give notice of the intended retirement date no earlier than 12 months and no later than six months before the default retirement age of 65. 

“It is dangerous not to ask people their ages,” Lewis told delegates at the Mid Downs Occupational Health Group conference in Crawley last week. “How are we going to know if someone is in the maximum 12 months or minimum six months before retirement if we don’t know their age?” she said.

Employers also need to know the age of young employees, as those under 22 must undergo a specific risk assessment under the law, Lewis said. She recommended firms include age bands on job applications as a solution.

The age regulations offered OH practitioners an opportunity to assert their expertise because an evidence-based approach to health assessment would help employers make objective decisions about retirement and redundancy, Lewis added.

Ban on birthday cards

One company has already taken drastic steps to avoid ending up at a tribunal hearing as a result of the new age legislation.

Last week, insurance broker Alan & Thomas said it had banned employees from sending birthday cards to workmates because of the fear of being sued over ageist comments.

The company said it was acting on legal advice and birthday cards will now just be signed by the directors.

For more on the conference, see the November issue of Occupational Health magazine

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