New legislation ensures that employers treat staff equally, regardless of age, and that they have equal opportunities with regards to recruitment, promotion and training. The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 came into force on 1 October 2006.
Employees over the age of 65 can now challenge an employer’s decision to dismiss them while those under 65 cannot be forced to retire. An employer must give 6 to 12 months’ notice to any person requesting to work after the age of 65. If less than six months’ notice is given, employees can be awarded up to eight weeks’ pay by an employment tribunal, which is limited to a maximum of £290 a week. Therefore, the maximum compensation would be £2,320.
If an employee makes a written request not to retire, the employer has a duty to consider that request and is legally bound to follow the "duty to consider procedure".
The upper age limit for sick pay and redundancy has been removed, so all employees, including those over 65, are entitled to statutory redundancy pay, if this is why they are dismissed, and are entitled to sick pay for up to 28 weeks. It is illegal to use age as a reason to enforce redundancy.
Sayers Confectioners, part of the Lyndale Foods group, said it has been preparing for the new laws during the past few months and has brought out an information booklet for its employees making them aware of the changes.
Out of about 120 workers, approximately 10 are over 65. Debbie Young, the HR Advisor and recruiter for Sayers, said the major changes are in the form of a new application form, and making sure the correct procedure and paperwork is in place for workers over the age of 65 requesting to continue. "The advantages of looking after our elderly workforce are a lot of long-serving people who know the business well. They are important to us. The disadvantage is if performance slips, it is now harder for us to react."
Steve Dowbekin, unit manager at Warburtons’ Variety Bakery, Bolton, appeared on the BBC’s Breakfast news, Tuesday 26 September, to discuss the new laws. He said: "All employers need to be aware of them and adhere to the guidelines. From Warburtons’ point of view, we are up to speed and don’t envisage a problem."
Ellis Fairbank, a recruitment agency for the industry, is of the opinion that the legislation will have a massively positive impact on the industry by ensuring a good mix of older, experienced workers who can pass on their expertise.
Rob Devlin, a recruitment specialist at Ellis Fairbank, said businesses should focus on the benefits: "There are many advantages that businesses may not be aware of; but employers will have to be more careful and embrace the laws as a progressive way of moving forward. I have valuable workers with 20 years’ experience who should in no way be discriminated against. That’s only right and fair as there is often a lot of misconception. Many talented bakers deserve the opportunity to progress within the industry," said Devlin.
"One of the huge challenges that we do face is trying to attract younger workers, of whom we have a real shortage," he added. "Now that employers cannot recruit based on age."
At an annual conference of the National Association of Master Bakers (NA) in May, the NA board said it was exploring the option of attracting younger members and considered co-opting an under-35-year-old. The new laws complicate this search making it difficult for the NA to set an age criteria (see British Baker, 5 May, pg 8).
Gill Brooks-Lonican, chief executive of the NA, stressed the importance of older workers: "There are advantages that our members express. Employers are happy to employ people who are not rushing off to pick up the children or to sort out other problems. Elderly workers often have valuable experience and are happy to work part-time."
A factor that may become an issue, said the NA, is equal training opportunities. "People in their 60s and older are entitled to the same opportunities as staff with many years of working ahead of them," said Brooks-Lonican.
Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers, said the new laws will not worry or affect plant bakers to any great degree: "There’s been no discussion or concern at Federation level, and nobody has expressed that the new laws will have a detrimental effect on their business."
Kirk Hunter, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Master Bakers (SAMB), also said he did not think the laws would have a massive effect: "I do not think there is a great deal of discrimination in the industry. But there are grey areas employers will have to be aware of. They must comply with the rules and ask for advice from the NA and SAMB."
The employment rate for the over-50s was continuing to rise even before the new legislation came in, said the The Age and Employment Network (TAEN). Figures in the May to July period showed an increase in the rate for women more than offset the slight drop in the rate for men. Also, while 72% of employers believed their employees were aware, 51% of workers claimed to be unaware of the new age discrimination rules, according to research issued by employment agency Manpower, based on more than 2,100 employers and 700 workers. The report, Old Age Thinking/New Age Thinking, showed that while 64% of workers do not think they have ever been discriminated against because of age, 43% have not applied for a job because they have considered themselves too young or too old.
TAEN recently launched a website, funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, for anyone looking for information about the age discrimination regulations, [http://www.agebusters.org.uk]
Age Concern urged that it is important for people who feel discriminated against, or are worried about discriminating, to seek expert legal advice, and that its local branch or Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help. n
=== The facts ===
According to the new legislation, unlawful discrimination for people over the age of 50 includes: n Direct discrimination: Treating a person less favourably because of age, or age they appear to be, such as a company refusing to employ a person because they are over 50.
n Indirect discrimination: A policy or practice, which puts people of certain age at a disadvantage, such as a company restricting recruitment to recent graduates. The law provides that direct and indirect discrimination can be justified and exempt in specific cases. The government said this will be hard for employers to prove.
n Victimisation: When a person is treated unfairly after making a complaint of discrimination, such as a person who is dismissed after claiming they have been treated unfairly because of their age.
n Harassment: Unwanted conduct, on the grounds of age, creating an intimidating, offensive or humiliating environment, such as a college making constant jokes about a person’s age. If the employee makes a written request not to retire, the employer has a duty to consider it and must follow the procedure. Employers will still be able to refuse to consider a job application from someone over 65.