Unreformed SMEs face age discrimination threat

Almost 2.5 million of the UK’s small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) could be vulnerable to age discrimination claims if they don’t review working practices before October 2006, new research shows.

According to the latest Axa Risk Monitor, an annual survey of 400 SME managers across the UK, four in 10 small business leaders aren’t aware of the new age discrimination legislation coming into effect in October next year.

Of those who are aware, 44% haven’t begun to take action to address its implications.

More than half of SME managers questioned (56%) expressed concern about the negative effect of increased employer liabilities that are likely to occur with an older workforce, and nearly one in three (31%) were worried about having to fund longer pension plans.

Despite these concerns, 41% of respondents agreed that the potential of an older workforce is a positive thing for UK business, compared to only 15% of respondents who see it as negative.

Lou Macari, head of business consultancy and training at Axa, said: “By 2006, there will be more 55-64 year olds than 16-24 year olds in the UK for the first time.

“The Turner Report and impending age discrimination legislation are a timely reminder that all businesses need to adapt to support the new profile of the UK workforce.

“We urge SMEs to take time to audit their employment policies and to review pension schemes, retirement policies and healthcare arrangements as part of their overall planning and strategy.”

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