It is now over 6 years since the default retirement age of 65 was abolished, but some employers still haven’t accepted that. We have advised several clients on how to address an ageing workforce, and in the main they have managed to deal with issues fairly with the employee, and at the same time look after their business.
However, not all employers have been so successful! The Employment Tribunal in Liverpool recently heard a case brought by a company accountant who had worked for the same firm for 16 years until he was dismissed at the age of 67. In the case, Peters v Rock Oil (2017), the company had expected Mr Peters to retire at 65. They even went so far as to recruit his successor. However, what they did not do was talk to Mr Peters about his plans. In fact Mr Peters had no intention of retiring at 65.
The company then concocted what the Employment Tribunal described as “trumped up charges” against Mr Peters and behaved towards him in a “threatening manner”. Mr Peters went off sick as a result, and was eventually dismissed. He brought a claim saying that the reason for his dismissal was his age, and the Tribunal agreed. They held that the company would not have treated a hypothetical comparator who was not in his mid-60s in the same manner, and went on to award Mr Peters compensation of £182,000.
The case illustrates how costly it can be to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their age (or indeed any other protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010). The compensation will largely be made up of losses flowing from the discrimination, and in a case like this the losses are likely to be on-going for a few years (until the Tribunal feels the employee could get another job, or would have retired by choice). As in all discrimination claims, compensation is not capped and is therefore potentially unlimited.
As stated above, there are ways in which employers can fairly address the issues of an ageing workforce, and indeed ask employees about their future plans. However, this should always be done with care and in a non-discriminatory manner.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).