'Ticking Time Bomb' of New Discrimination Laws; Firms Ill-Prepared for Age Regulations

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Byline: BY BILL GLEESON Business Editor

THE Government must do more to alert businesses to the pitfalls of failing to be prepared for new age discrimination laws that come into effect in a few months time.

The new laws have been described as the biggest shake up in employment laws in 30 years for the UK's four million small firms.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is warning that the Government is sitting on "a ticking time bomb".

The FPB said many small businesses, which employ a third of the workforce, are still unaware of the breadth of legal changes due to come into force in October.

The FPB's chairman Len Collinson urged firms to review their working practices as a matter of priority with just five months to go until new regulations come into effect in October.

"Small businesses need to take time to check their employment policies and review pensions, retirement policies and healthcare arrangements as part of their overall plans, so they are prepared well ahead of the legal change," he said.

The FPB represents 25,000 small to medium-sized firms employing 600,000 people.

The Age Discrimination Regulations will:

Prohibit unjustified age discrimination in recruitment, employment and training'

Remove the upper age limits for unfair dismissal and redundancy'

Introduce a national default retirement age of 65, making compulsory retirement below 65 unlawful unless it can be justified'

Require all employers to consider employee requests to work beyond 65 or any other normal retirement age set by the company.

A recent study of 400 firms by insurance firm AXA has revealed that 40% of small businesses are unaware of the forthcoming age discrimination legislation. AXA reports that, of those who are aware of it, nearly half - 44 % - have so far failed to prepare themselves. Moreover, research carried out for the Department of Work and Pensions found that, whilst almost half of the 2000 businesses surveyed monitored their workforce recruitment and pay in respect of age, only 5 % had taken any action as a result. …