Byline: By Tony McPhillips
Employers should be taking action now over new discrimination rules coming into force in October, explains Tony McPhillips, head of employment group at specialist commercial law firm Robert Muckle LLP.
Employers will have new responsibilities later this year when fresh regulations will sweep away the final obstacle to equality and diversity in the workplace.
We have outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sex, race, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. From October 2006, The Regulations, (the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations to give them their full title), will also ban discrimination on the grounds of age.
In short, the new Regulations place additional responsibilities on employers who will need to review their benefits based on age or length of service and their retirement policies. The Regulations also introduce procedures to request working after retirement age. All employers should audit their existing recruitment practices and ensure job adverts are balanced and fair and do not target particular age groups.
The new rules introduce a default retirement age of 65, with lower ages only allowed where they can be objectively justified. However, contrary to common misapprehension, employers will still be entitled to rely on retirement as a fair reason for dismissing an employee, provided the specific requirements of the Regulations are satisfied. This procedure is simple.
Employers must notify employees approaching retirement in writing of their "right to request" to continue working beyond their retirement age between six and 12 months before the proposed retirement date at the same time as informing them of the intended retirement date.
The Regulations contain complex transitional provisions which apply in situations where the dismissal takes effect before April 1, 2007.
If the employee wishes to work beyond retirement age, the employer must either agree to the request, or meet with the employee to discuss the request. A decision must be given in writing within a reasonable period (although there is no obligation to give reasons for rejecting a request) together with a right to appeal.
Failing to follow the procedure will entitle an employee to up to eight weeks' pay and potentially render the dismissal automatically unfair. The key to avoiding claims is to introduce and maintain an effective diary system identifying retirement and notification dates. …