Will October see start of age-related court chaos?

Age discrimination legislation has been dubbed the biggest piece of social engineering for 20 years. It’s been looming on the horizon for quite some time, and now the tide is just about in.

We only have six months to put our houses in order before anti-ageism laws threaten to propel non-compliant organisations straight into the employment tribunal.

Every week dozens of surveys come out – generally from the law firms that are expected to be the biggest winners as a result of this new legislation – warning UK organisations just how unprepared they are.

Many UK employers fear that half of tribunal cases after 1 October will contain an age-related element. And the majority fear that age will trip them up more frequently than race, gender or disability.

Between now and October, HR departments will be busy sifting out any ageist practices, and ensuring that all employees are fully briefed on how the new laws will affect them and how they work.

In the countdown to October, Personnel Today is planning a series of articles featuring advice, practical tips and case studies from a variety of sectors – as well as advisory pieces from the DTI – to help HR ensure all processes are legally watertight. Our ‘countdown coverage’ begins on 4 April, so let us know if you have any specific issues you would like us to address.

Of course, the success of age legislation will go far beyond policies and procedures. For it to work, there needs to be a complete change in attitude towards age, which, in organisations where the culture is ingrained and outdated, will be a daunting task.

Typical of this ‘attitude’ is the reaction of a media firm we spoke to when the draft age regulations were first released. “Age discrimination? We don’t worry about that. We don’t have anyone over 35 working here,” they said.

The law may force policy changes in six months’ time, but a culture change is going to take a hell of a lot longer.

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