The consultation process on the new draft regulations on age discrimination has ended this week, and the government is committed to introducing legislation in October 2006. However leading pressure group, The Employers Forum on Age (EFA), has warned that employers are becoming "desperate" for more information and guidance on age discrimination laws.

Although the new regulations seem far off, the clock is ticking and businesses are running out of time to prepare for the new legislation. There is a real risk that many businesses could be "dangerously exposed" to discrimination claims next year. Despite the fact that employers were promised almost two years to prepare, age laws will in fact be introduced in less than 12 months, and many of the regulations are yet to be finalised.

As outlined in a previous bulletin the new regulations will:

  • ban age discrimination in recruitment, promotion and training;
  • ban all retirement ages below 65 - except where objectively justified;
  • require employers to inform employees in writing, and at least 6 months in advance, of their intended retirement date in order to allow employees to plan for their retirement;
  • remove the current upper qualifying age for unfair dismissal and redundancy rights, giving older workers the same rights to claim unfair dismissal or receive a redundancy payment, unless there is a genuine retirement;
  • impose a duty on employers to consider an employee's request to continue working beyond retirement; and
  • include provisions relating to service related benefits and occupational pensions.

The regulations also remove the age limits for Statutory Sick Pay, Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and Statutory Paternity Pay.  It is clear that the new regulations will have far reaching implications for all employers and that sufficient planning needs to be done and professional advice sought.

EFA has recently conducted a survey of its members, some of the UK's largest employers, and found that almost 60% were worried about lack of guidance on the new legislation. However a DTI spokesperson has commented that the department had commissioned ACAS to produce guidance early in the new year. It has also been suggested that the regulations will be laid before parliament next spring.

It is crucial that employers do not simply dismiss the new regulations as more 'red-tape' as the risk of litigation is very real. In Ireland, where age discrimination laws were introduced in 1999, complaints of age discrimination made up 22% of all formal discrimination claims brought in 2004, compared with 23% on the grounds of race and 24% on the grounds of gender. Employers cannot afford to be complacent. While not everyone could have a disability or race or sex claim, everyone could have an age claim.

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