Forced Retirement at 65 Could Be Unlawful; DISCRIMINATION European Court of Justice Ruling May Not End Affair LEGAL

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Byline: TOM SCOTNEY Legal & Finance Editor

Despite recent reports an employee of a West Midland stationery company is on the payroll at 96, it remains the case employment beyond 65 is not common in UK industry.

The introduction of age discrimination laws in 2006 has affected the work place, with policies and practices that disadvantage particular age groups having disappeared.

Despite this, the exception in age discrimination regulations which permits compulsory retirement at 65 means an employee's working life coming to an end in their 60s remains the norm.

Compulsory retirement, which amounts to an employee being dismissed because of age, is considered by some a blatant form of discrimination and barrier to achieving a culture where people of all ages are treated equally.

It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, the legitimacy of the rules which permit this are being challenged with Age Concern's campaigning arm, Heyday, claiming UK age discrimination laws breach European Law.

The saga over retirement age took a step forward when the advocate general of the European Court of Justice delivered his opinion of Heyday's claim. Employers should treat with caution, however, reports which suggest the Heyday challenge has reached the end of the line and UK compulsory retirement rules are safe. In fact, the case could still make compulsory retirement at 65 unlawful in both the public and private sectors.

To start with, the recent opinion is not binding on the judges of the European Court who may either follow it or decide something different. The full court's judgment is not expected until early next year, so no rash decisions about the proper approach to retirement policy should be taken before then.

More importantly, even if the court does agree with the advocate general's rejection of a number of Heyday's technical arguments about the legitimacy of the rule which allows compulsory retirement at 65, the case will still return to the UK High Court for it to conduct its own assessment of whether the rule is objectively justified. …