The House of Lords’ decision in Preston v Wolverhampton Healthcare NHS Trust has helped to clarify some very difficult issues for employers on sex discrimination and pension schemes. However, HR managers will have to check contracts of employment and staff handbooks to make sure they are still not vulnerable to claims, write Jonathan Chamberlain.
In recent years, the main issue for employers was the question of part-time workers, most of whom were women. The courts ruled some years ago that it was sex discrimination to exclude them from membership of schemes, but that still left two unanswered questions:
- When can people who might have been discriminated against bring a claim?
- What is the period of service in respect of which they can make a claim?
This decision was a sensible compromise. Their Lordships decided that claims would have to be brought within six months of service ending, but the claims can then relate back to all service since 1976.
Employers will need to review their position urgently. However, fears that thousands more claims might be made seem largely to have been allayed.
Claims will now only be possible if they were brought within six months of service ending, or if they relate to someone who is still in employment. Moreover, employees seeking to benefit from this ruling will be required to make good any past contributions required by their pension scheme.
Even so, Employment Tribunals will now have to reactivate the 60,000 or so IT claims which are thought to have been held in abeyance whilst this matter was considered by the Lords.
On the whole, this judgment is helpful and clear. There are still some grey areas which will need further analysis, such as the question of whether people can bring contractual claims within six years. I believe employers should be:
Reviewing any files they have where there are IT claims which have been stayed
pending the outcome of this case.
* Ensuring that any discriminatory elements in their pension schemes have been removed (most have)
* Reviewing their contracts of employment and pension scheme documentation.
This last point may be the most