Age discrimination rules "are unworkable"


Britain's new age discrimination laws won't work and will simply create difficulties for employers unless last minute changes are made, according to the Law Society.

The new duties that will fall on employers to consider requests from older workers to continue working and to justify different treatment on grounds of age are still unclear.

"We are concerned there is such a short lead-in time for this major piece of legislation", said Kevin Martin, President of the Law Society, which is the regulatory and representative body for solicitors in England and Wales.

Under the new regulation employers will have a duty to consider requests from individuals to continue working beyond 65. Each request must be considered individually, but the legislation does not provide any criteria against which to assess the request.

"As the regulations stand at present, we fear that clear criteria may be impossible to devise and many employers will be tempted to adopt a policy of refusing all requests to work beyond a compulsory retirement age", said Mr Martin.

A recent survey by the Employers Forum on Age has found employers are equally sceptical about the likely impact of the new laws, with more than six out of 10 agreeing with the Law Society that the new regulations will simply encourage employers to retire everyone at 65.

In a final submission to the Department for Trade and Industry, the Law Society's Employment Law Committee say it will be very difficult for employers to navigate the complicated provisions on justification – the grounds on which employers will be able to treat people differently because of their age.

The Committee says there needs to be more guidance and practical examples for employers to follow

The new Employment Equality (Age) regulations are due to come into force in October 2006. They will bring age discrimination into line with laws on sex and race discrimination in employment and vocational training.

Lawyers have warned that the effects of the legislation are likely to be far reaching because age discrimination can affect anybody of any age, meaning that all employment practices will need to be tested for any inherent ageism.

As a result, there is a strong likelihood there will be a sharp rise in tribunal cases citing age discrimination.

"I suspect that every single application to an employment tribunal will start to have age discrimination as a part of it," warned Caroline Carter, partner with employment law firm Ashurst.

"My gut instinct is that a lot of the early cases will be from younger people who have not got promoted."