LEGAL MATTERS : New Laws to Get Rid of Those Tired, Old Jokes; Midland Firms Should Address the Problem of Ageism Now, a Birmingham Employment Law Specialist Told Jessica Shepherd

Article excerpt

Byline: Jessica Shepherd

The rest of the office had a good laugh. After all, it was never intended to be hurtful.

The birthday card from Jack's colleagues read: 'Old is ... when your wife says, 'let's go upstairs and make love' and you answer, 'sweetheart, I can't do both!'.'

But the 57-year-old accountant from Birmingham was insulted and a repeat next year could, if he wished, set his firm back thousands of pounds.

Draft regulations on age discrimination are expected to be drawn up by the Department for Trade and Industry by the end of the summer.

The legislation, which started as part of the European Employment Directive, will ban 'unjustified' age discrimination in recruitment, promotion and vocational training.

Ministers have given themselves until October next year to bring the law into force.

Although that is not for 17 months, a Birmingham employment law specialist, said bosses cannot act quickly enough.

Jonathan Chamberlain, who is a partner at Wragge & Co, said: 'Many employers unofficially restrict the people they employ on age-related grounds.

'They talk about wanting a 'dynamic, enthusiastic, fashionable' person. These are clearly codewords for 'young'.

'This is going to have to change. Employers should start thinking about their company's recruitment process, its promotion prospects and the pay policies in place.

'For example, if they are rewarding employees for long service, they may have to justify this so that it doesn't look like they are discriminating against the younger members of staff. The rules will cut both ways.

'I suggest they walk out of their offices, look around and ask themselves what age range there is and why' You only have to go into any trendy bar in Birmingham city centre. If you see anyone who isn't under 25, buy yourself a drink! The same goes for the receptionists in glossy office blocks. But on the factory floor the situation is different, most of the workforce are older than 40.'

Mr Chamberlain believes the legislation will ultimately be as successful as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which changed perceptions ata time when it was socially acceptable to discriminate against someone on the grounds that they were black or female. …