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Ageism in the workplace – practical steps to avoid age discrimination

Since the abolition of the Default Retirement Age in 2011, there has been an increased rise in the number of over 65 year old’s found in the workplace and this is set to continue. With more than 50% of over 50’s planning to work beyond their state pension age, the potential for age discrimination is becoming of greater concern for employers.Age discrimination, otherwise known as ageism, is when an employee or job applicant is treated less favourably because of age without objective justification, so-called direct discrimination. Age discrimination can also occur indirectly, which is when a policy, criterion or provision is applied which leads to a disadvantage to a person of a particular age or to a particular age group without an objective justification for it.

According to the Office of National Statistics in 2014 the life expectancy for men was 79 years and for women 83 years. However by 2039 life expectancy is expected to reach 84 years for men and 87 years for women meaning the ageing workforce will continue to grow. It is increasingly the case that people cannot afford to retire upon reaching their state pension age and so growing numbers of people are having to choose to continue working.

Employers legal obligations

Employers must legally ensure they do not discriminate on the grounds of age in the workplace, in relation to employees, job seekers or trainees, as set out in Equality Act 2010. Two particular types of age discrimination employers should be aware of are:

– Direct Discrimination: discrimination because of an employee’s age, their perceived age or the age of someone they are associated with. An example of this would be if an employee was dismissed because they reached the age of 65.

– Indirect Discrimination: when a policy, procedure or workplace rule applies to all but disadvantages people of a certain age. For example, if a job role had a requirement for a specific qualification (for example GCSE’s) which was not available when older employees were in education.

“It is unlawful to discriminate in the workplace on the grounds of age, therefore employers need to be aware of pitfalls to avoid and ensure they act in accordance with equality legislation”, says Camille Renaudon, employment law solicitor and partner at Hibberts Solicitors.

Practical steps to avoid age discrimination pitfalls

There are many pitfalls in the workplace with regards to age discrimination and some practical steps to avoid complaints of discrimination on the grounds of age are: –

– make a concerted effort to reduce age related stereotypes and to challenge assumptions in the workplace

– ensure your staff have received training on age discrimination

– check your workplace policies and contracts of employment to ensure they are compliant with current legislation (and do not for example still refer to the default retirement age)

– implement succession planning within your business and recognise the considerable benefits of retaining older workers, an integral part of this is planning is establishing effective communication with your staff about their future plans.

Camille Renaudon adds: “The moving position of the state pension age and the wider impact on your employee workforce may provide succession planning and inter-generation planning opportunities that previously did not exist.”

How to deal with flexible working requests, redundancy and retirement

Flexible Working – An employee is entitled to make a flexible working application if they have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks, have not made an application in the previous 12 months and are not an agency worker. An employee does not have to be a parent or carer to request flexible working and examples include a wide variety such as changes to their working days & hours, shift patterns, flexitime and job sharing to name just a few.

Redundancy – If you are considering reducing the size of your workforce, make sure you choose an appropriate pool for selection and use appropriate selection criteria when undertaking a redundancy process.

Retirement – Some employers still retain a written retirement procedure whereas some do not following the repeal of the default retirement age and statutory procedure. An employer may set their own retirement age if it can be objectively justified. However, this is a complicated area and specialist advice should always be sought. There are considerable benefits in businesses having succession plans in place and recognising the benefits of early and effective communication with employees about retirement planning.

Need help and advice in avoiding age discrimination in your workplace? Or are you an employer who needs help updating your employee handbooks and contracts? Contact Camille Renaudon at Hibberts Solicitors on 01270 215117 or email cvr@hibberts.com

Camille Renaudon

Partner & Head of Employment

Camille Renaudon became a Partner of Hibberts LLP Solicitors in 2014.Receiving her Law Degree with honours at Sheffield University Camille graduated in 2002. Opting to work in the world of Youth Justice for the next 3 years to gain ‘life experience’, she returned to university in 2005 to complete a Legal Practice Course full time.Following this Camille completed her training course with Hibberts in 2008, qualifying as Solicitor.Heading up our Employment Law Department and primarily based at our Crewe office, she provides an employment law service for all of our offices across South Cheshire and North Shropshire.Camille represents both employers and employees across the UK and abroad. She provides a flexible service seeing clients’ at their convenience, either in the office or in their homes.