Three-quarters of HR professionals in the UK admit their organisation discriminates - consciously or unconsciously - on the grounds of age and half have done nothing to prepare for tough new age discrimination legislation due to come into force on 1 October 2006.
A survey conducted anonymously amongst HR managers by law firm Thomas Eggar also highlighted a distinct lack of knowledge about the implications of the new laws.
Only 14 per cent felt their management team were suitably aware of the issues surrounding age discrimination. This figure dropped to a mere seven per cent when questioned whether their workforce were aware of the new Regulations.
When asked if they had started preparing for the implementation of the upcoming legislation, 48 per cent responded that, as yet, they had done nothing.
What's more, only seven per cent were confident their internal processes would ensure compliance. This lack of pro-activity can be partly explained by the fact that as few as one in 10 HR professionals feel they have been given enough practical information about the impact of the new laws.
Nicola Brown, Associate at Thomas Eggar, believes these findings demonstrate that the real impact of the upcoming legislation is being underestimated.
"This is one of the most talked about pieces of employment legislation in recent years, so it is worrying to see that the Regulations are not being taken seriously by organisations. In fact our survey shows that almost half of respondents felt the new laws would not, in reality, make any difference to their working practices.
"I am surprised at this approach as, from an employment lawyer's perspective, I think these Regulations will have a significant impact on all organisations. If they do not adapt their practices to cover the new provisions they could face costly discrimination claims.
The Employers Forum on Age have estimated that if all the 14 per cent of wokers who feel that they have been victims of ageism were to pursue a claim under the new laws, UK employers could be exposing themselves to a staggering £73 billion worth of damages.
In the first year of the legislation alone, it is estimated that UK employers could be facing legal claims in the region of £193 million.
"When the new laws come into force they will seek to ensure equal treatment for all employees irrespective of their age, unless an employer can justify different treatment," Nicola Brown said.
"The Regulations are going to have a dramatic effect on the recruitment processes of most employers.
"The new proposed retirement procedures will also undoubtedly trip up a lot of companies, resulting in claims of automatically unfair dismissal," she added.
"Whilst currently employees over normal retirement age do not have protection against unfair dismissal this will change with the new Regulations and there will be no upper age limit."