Age discrimination - the new laws

Related tags Age discrimination Discrimination

So you've no problems with race discrimination or sex discrimination. Black or white, man or woman, it doesn't stop them being a good worker behind...

So you've no problems with race discrimination or sex discrimination. Black or white, man or woman, it doesn't stop them being a good worker behind the bar or in the kitchen. But what about age discrimination? Surely that's different? Younger people have more energy. Older people are more reliable. It seems like common sense. But a new law says otherwise.

From October 1 this year it will be unlawful for you to advertise for "young" barstaff or a "mature" cook. You can't be suspected of promoting one member of the team over another simply because they are younger and have "more potential". You can't give perks to one age group that you don't give to everyone.

As with any new law there are plenty of grey areas which will only be clarified for sure in test cases after October. But a conference on age awareness earlier this month, organised by Springboard UK, which promotes recruitment in the hospitality industry, opened a few eyes among the audience mainly made up of HR professionals.

Richard Smith, employment director at law firm Croner Consulting, set out what the regulations will mean for employers.

"The legislation is on a par with the sex and race discrimination acts," he said. "People have stereotypical views based on age and you should be asking yourself whether the question of age has been introduced into your decision-making process. It need not be overt. The test is whether the candidate for a job or a promotion has suffered any disadvantage consistent with unlawful discrimination.

"An employment tribunal could ask you as an employer to prove you did not discrimate on the basis of age and you will need to produce evidence for your decisions - records, notes, figures on how many people applied from different age groups. Many organisations will be found wanting when it comes to this."

Part of the problem, he suggested, is that "many have an inherent belief that taking age into account is OK. But stereotypes need to be challenged."

He predicted that Britain could see 20,000 age discrimination cases a year going to employment tribunal, mainly around the way people are selected for promotion and redundancy, or dismissed for "poor performance".

RECRUITING

Employers will be pulled up not just for direct discrimination but for indirect, covert discrimination. For example, requiring recruits to hold a particular qualification that may not have been available to older applicants.

Your job ads must also avoid using terms that imply a certain age. "Young" and "junior" are obviously out, and so, probably, is "energetic". Asking for someone with "10 years experience" could also be dodgy. "It is better to talk about the competencies a recruit should have rather than the experience they have got," Richard advised.

The same applies when you are interviewing. Don't ask people their age, ask them what they've done before and what their skills are.

And the law covers not only who you recruit but their terms of employment. Younger staff must be given the same rate of pay as older staff, and must receive the same benefits, health insurance for example.

A particular problem for pubs and bars could come when licensees believe they need to hire barstaff that match the age of their customers - whether that's young or old.

There is scope within the law for you to claim that the age of your staff constitutes a "genuine occupational requirement". But Richard doesn't think this will wash when it comes to barstaff.

IN WORK

Existing staff could also be affected by the law, not only when it comes to selection for promotion, but in being protected against harassment.

"If people feel they are being picked on because of their age there could be a case to answer," said Richard. "Even the banter and comment on a birthday card could create an intimidating atmosphere, and it's your job to educate your workforce that it's wrong."

RETIREMENT

The regulations introduce a "default" retirment age of 65. It will be illegal to force anyone to retire before that age.

Employees will also have the right to ask to continue working beyond the age of 65, and you will be legally obliged to consider such a request and respond in writing - although you won't need to give any reasons for your decision.

For more help

* Go to www.agepositive.gov.uk

* Call 0845 715 2000 or email apg@isky.co.uk for a free information pack on the legislation and what you can do about it

* Contact the ACAS helpline on 0845 7474747 or online at www.acas.org.uk

* Access more facts and figures can be accessed on people1st.co.uk.

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