20 December – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – From 1 October 2006, ne…

20 December – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – From 1 October 2006, new legislation will come into effect which is intended to combat discrimination on the grounds of age. Ageism, it is hoped, will become a thing of the past, and the workplace will no longer resound to comments such as “silly old fool” and “daft young lassie”, and references to the “ancient dinosaurs” who roam the boardroom.

During a recent series of winter seminars covering age discrimination, commercial law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn carried out a survey amongst the delegates to understand employers’ concerns as the new legislation approaches, and to see what efforts they are making to take the new law on board. The results make interesting reading.

The questionnaire not only addressed the approaches so far adopted by organisations, but also delegates’ personal intentions. More than 1 in 4 claimed that they intended to continue working past the anticipated default retirement age of 65, with a further 15% unsure. If these figures are representative of the working population, it is clear that the ability to request to work beyond 65 will be important.

Recent speculation over the future of pensions has also added an extra dimension to the debate. Put simply, there will be a great many of us who will not have enough money tucked away to cope with retirement. The possibility of carrying on earning will become a necessity for some.

94% believed that financing their retirement would be difficult, agreeing that employees should be allowed to request to work beyond 65.

From a business perspective, only one-third of delegates confirmed that their businesses were actively reviewing policies and procedures, and over 29% stated that management/executive-level discussions had taken place. Only 2 of the 85 delegates had already consulted with employees on the new legislation.

A small number of respondents were taking “some other action” to prepare their businesses for 1 October. This included information gathering, preparing action plans, producing interim guidance and preparing training for managers.

Sheila Gunn, a partner in the employment division of Shepherd and Wedderburn said:
“Surprisingly, just over half the delegates did not foresee that the new legislation would have an impact on their remuneration practices. However, the majority of those who had concerns in this regard felt that length of service benefits would be affected. This could be harsh news for employees who have been looking forward to earning an extra day’s holiday or two as their time with the organisation continues.

“Tellingly, 36% of those present considered that their organisations would be at risk of Employment Tribunal claims if the legislation were in force today. Main concerns included recruitment policies, pension issues, and harassment. While most delegates foresaw claims being raised by older workers, many were alive to the possibility that younger workers could also take advantage of the new rules.

“Once the draft Regulations are finalised, the position will become clearer – not least in relation to any transitional measures put in place to cover the first 6 months or so until the new law “beds down”. However, employers should be thinking ahead in order to hit the ground running on 1 October.

“Judging by the number of delegates who thought that their organisation could be at risk of claims one thing at least is clear: businesses need to ensure that their policies and practices are updated and reviewed in order to avoid costly and unnecessary Tribunal claims.“

Please contact Sheila Gunn if you would like to be kept updated on developments.

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