Anti-age discrimination regulations published

In March 2006, the government published the final version of regulations to outlaw age discrimination in the workplace, aimed at implementing the age discrimination provisions of the EU equal treatment framework directive. Subject to parliamentary approval, the regulations will come into effect in October 2006.

On 9 March 2006, the Department of Trade and Industry published the final version of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 (560Kb MS Word doc), which will prohibit age discrimination in employment and vocational training. The regulations are intended to give effect to the age discrimination provisions of the EU Directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (2000/78/EC) (EU0102295F), and will come into force from 1 October 2006, subject to parliamentary approval. Earlier versions of the regulations have been the subject of extensive public consultation (UK0508101N).

The regulations will:

  • prohibit discrimination in terms of recruitment, promotion and training;
  • prohibit unjustified retirement ages of below 65 years;
  • remove the current age limit for unfair dismissal claims and redundancy payments;
  • introduce a duty on employers to consider an employee’s request to continue working beyond retirement age;
  • require employers to inform employees at least six months in advance of their intended retirement date, and their right to request to work beyond that date.

The legislation includes a number of exemptions designed to allow the continuation of some service-related benefits as well as most age-related rules and practices in occupational pension schemes.

The government has stated that it will review the idea of abolishing retirement ages altogether in five years’ time, taking account of trends in longevity, employment rates among older people, and evolving employment practices by employers.

Commenting on the regulations, trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson, said:

As we are living longer and healthier lives, it is essential that the talents of older workers are not wasted. We must have the opportunity to carry on working where that is what we want [...] It’s all about choice – not work till you drop but choose when you stop. Ageism hits younger people too, who can find themselves discriminated against in the job market. For business to thrive in an increasingly competitive market, they must not ignore the skills of any worker, whatever their age.

Reaction from the social partners

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) welcomed the publication of the age discrimination regulations. Its director of human resources, Susan Anderson, believes that: ‘Unfair discrimination based on age is clearly unacceptable – employers recognise that they should only discriminate on ability’. In the CBI’s view, ‘the new law will cement changes already well underway in UK workplaces’ – according to a recent CBI survey, 51% of employees already have access to flexible retirement options – ‘but the regulations will require employers to review their policies and practices’.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) also welcomed the regulations. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber stated that:

At the moment, it’s all too easy for employers to treat staff or job applicants unfairly because they are young and seen as too inexperienced, or regarded as too old and over the hill. These new regulations will make the world of difference because they will force employers to treat workers of all ages fairly. But the government could have gone further, and we are disappointed that the regulations will see younger workers still being paid a lower minimum wage than their older workmates.

Some employment lawyers, citing experience in other countries, including the United States and Ireland, have predicted that the latest age discrimination legislation will prompt a significant rise in employment tribunal cases.

A poll of major UK employers, carried out by the Employers’ Forum on Age (EFA), shows that half of the respondent organisations expect that the age legislation will have a greater impact than race and disability legislation, and 40% believe that it will have a greater impact than sex discrimination laws. According to EFA director Sam Mercer, ‘Any employer who has not got age equality as a priority in their business is going to be in trouble’.

Mark Hall, Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU), Warwick Business School

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