October 1st saw the coming into force of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006.  These regulations are the final plank of European equality legislation being implemented in the UK, with laws in relation to race, sex, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation already in force.  The Regulations - which cover employment and vocational training - prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, whether young or old.  The Regulations affect every stage of the employment life cycle, from advertising for staff, through recruitment and pay and benefits, to retirement.
 
The prohibition on discrimination goes further than explicit direct discrimination (for example, health checks available only to the over 50s) and includes indirect discrimination, which arises when a blanket policy that notionally affects all employees in practical terms affects only specific age groups (for example, where recruitment advertisements are placed solely in magazines that appeal to the 16-24 year old demographic).
 
The Regulations also cover harassment and bullying, which are unsurprisingly prohibited.  Again, this prohibition extends further than straightforward bullying to include such things as older workers being excluded from informal social events because the venue chosen for them is not to their tastes.   This puts employers in the unenviable position of having to take steps to eliminate any culture of age discrimination in their workplace. 
 
Also introduced is a minimum retirement age of 65.  If an employer wishes their standard retirement age to be something other than 65, they will have to objectively justify their decision, which will be difficult.  On top of this is the introduction of a "planned retirement procedure" which must be followed whenever an employer intends to retire an employee.  The procedure allows the prospective retiree the opportunity to request that they continue to work after 65.  The employer is under a duty to consider the request, though they do not have to agree to it.  The procedure must be followed correctly: failure to do so exposes the employer to a claim for unfair dismissal.
 
In other jurisdictions, age discrimination legislation has been fertile ground for litigation and under the Regulations there is no cap on the compensation that can be awarded, so if employers wish to avoid potentially costly legal proceedings, they should carry out a thorough audit of their personnel procedures and documentation, as well as ensuring that all relevant staff are properly trained.

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