Getting to grips with the minefield that is age discrimination is a perennial problem for small sized businesses, but owners ignore these issues at their peril.
According to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), six out of ten workers have experienced discrimination on account of their age, believing they have missed out on jobs or promotions. Legal recourse can be lurking around the corner if you’re not careful.
This research comes with less than a year to go before the introduction of laws outlawing age discrimination at work, which has been predicted to be the most sweeping law change in more than 20 years. Despite this, a clear definition of the legislation has yet to be produced by the Government.
Essentially, the new rules will prevent the use, without justification, of age or age-related criteria in recruitment, promotion and training. Proposals for the new laws include no mandatory retirement before 65 (again, without justification), new processes to manage retirement for everyone, no direct age criteria in redundancy and no upper age limits for unfair dismissal and redundancy.
A national default retirement age of 65 will be introduced, making compulsory retirement below the age of 65 unlawful, unless objectively justified. All employees will have the right to request to work beyond the age of 65 or any other retirement age set by the company and all employers will have to give due consideration to these requests from employees.
With these changes due to come into effect on 1 October 2006, ‘There is no time to be lost,’ urges Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD. ‘Employers need to survey everything they do for potential discrimination. It can take time to sort out so it’s best to start right now. Although the new regulations won’t be available until early next year, it’s worth reading the consultation document, which contains the proposals.’
The major area that will be affected is recruitment, particularly when advertising a vacancy. It is important to describe the post as factually as possible, without using terms that could be construed as age-specific. Phrases to be avoided are the likes of ‘mature person’, ‘young graduate’ and, more obviously, specific references to age such as ‘applicants should be 20 to 30 years old’. Adverts should also be placed so as to reach as wide an age range as possible.
Getting the right balance
Away from recruitment, checking the current balance of ages in your business is a good starting point. For example, your workforce all reaching retirement age at the same time could be a problem, as could having a large proportion of women of childbearing age. In cases where staff are skewed towards a particular age, Worman controversially says there’s justification for some ‘positive discrimination’ in recruitment to redress the balance.
‘It’s good to have a mix of ages in your workforce,’ she believes. ‘It can create a productive blend of the experience of older staff and qualifications and enthusiasm of younger employees. This is the fundamental thinking behind the age discrimination laws, which is worth thinking about.
‘It’s going to be a hassle to take these laws into account,’ she concedes, ‘but the consequences of not doing so could easily be a trip to an employment tribunal with the associated financial cost and damage to reputation.’
For further information
Age Positive – www.agepositive.gov.uk
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – www.acas.org.uk
The Employers Forum on Age – www.efa.org.uk
Chartered Institute of Personnel Development – www.cipd.co.uk