The new law, Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 has the following Impact:
It will be unlawful on the grounds of age to:
Discriminate Directly – that is threat someone less favourably because of their age
- Discriminate Indirectly – That is to apply conditions or restrictions which in practice disadvantage a particular age group, e.g. requiring a graduate with 5 years experience would indirectly discriminate against anyone under 28 years old.
- Harassment – any form of unwanted conduct that violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment.
- Victimise someone because they have made or intend to make a complaint on the grounds of age.
- Discriminate against someone, in certain circumstances, after the working relationship ha ended.
Further employers could be responsible fro the actions of their staff in the same way as with other forms of discrimination; so they must ensure staff are properly trained in this area.
Upper age limits for unfair dismissal and redundancy will be removed.
There will be a national default retirement age of 65 making compulsory retirement under the age of 65 unlawful
Employees will have the right to request to work beyond 65 or any other retirement age set by the company. Employers have a duty to give these requests reasonable consideration.
It is essential for the good of the business, rather than paying lip service to the regulations, that employers consider the age profile of their staff and ensure the policies and practices are fair to all ages.
Many companies already review equipment and make plans for renewal. Recognising that a large number of staff could retire at the same time and that succession / renewal plans need to be in place is no different.
Once a review of age profile has been made employers should review their policies on recruitment, selection, promotion and training.
Recognise that age discrimination affects young and old alike.
In addition to looking at policies, specifics such as job specifications, appraisal formats and job adverts should be considered.
Very often descriptions like “experience” are used as euphemisms or short hand for certain levels of knowledge or skill. These could be discriminatory as they may effectively prevent people under a certain age applying, even if they have the required knowledge or skill.
Equally phrases such as “mature” imply age whereas perhaps what is required is a balanced or considered outlook.
It is clear that the best starting point for job specifications and adverts is for the employer to be absolutely clear about what is required rather that using these euphemisms.
Competency based assessment / interviewing and also psychometric testing are very useful for avoiding all forms of discrimination. By focusing specifically on knowledge, skills and aptitudes candidates or staff can be assessed on a level playing field irrespective of age, gender, race etc.
The key starting point is in determining the correct competencies for the role and being able to objectively justify that they are required.
For example an employer may seek a sales person with a minimum of 5 years experience in a particularly market. This could be discriminatory and so perhaps the employer should specify the range and depth of product knowledge required and the level of market knowledge and contacts. It is entirely possible that a very good candidate has gained these in a shorter period. Discriminatory or not the employer would be unwise to exclude a candidate who is so diligent as to have gained this in a much shorter period than is typical.
Specifically in the print industry the age profile is already heavily skewed towards older workers with an average age in the late 40’s. Continued failure to attract, develop and promote sufficient younger people in the industry could result in significant labour and skills shortages as a wave of these older workers retires in a relatively short period during the next 15 years.
There is already legislation in place to tackle most forms of discrimination, including race, sex, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation and religion. So from a moral perspective it could be argued that it is about time there was protection against age discrimination.
However from a business perspective in times where, if not an absolute skills shortage, there is certainly difficulty in securing really good candidates it is unwise to exclude or disregard sections of the labour market for no good reason.
Employers who find that their workforce is skewed either to older or younger workers may find they are lacking in certain areas. It is by no means certain that an employer cannot have a “complete” skill set or level of competence if the age profile is skewed but workers of all ages have value and can bring diversity and complimentary skills and approaches.
There are of course other factors at play such as the pension’s crisis. Employers may find that staff are seeking to work beyond normal retirement age because they cannot afford to retire. Employers will be bound to give these requests fair consideration and should recognise the wealth of knowledge and skills these people have; for example by using these people to accelerate the learning and development of younger staff.
There is a temptation to see all new regulations as a burden.
In our experience whilst many companies have addressed discrimination and have good policies and practices in place, there are a large number who have little more than “gut feel” for their staff age profile and its implications for future staffing needs.
In deed many will say age is just not an issue for us we don’t consider it. At the same time, however, closer review will highlight that they are susceptible to many forms of indirect discrimination.
These new regulations may actually be the impetus companies need to tackle this important “blind spot”.
Of course there will be those who more or less ignore the regulations. Sadly on past experience many will get away with it.
For those, however, it is likely to be a limited victory as the lost opportunity and potential for disruption outweigh the difficulties in putting proper practices in place.
It is important to see this as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of your staff profile and plan better for both current and future needs rather than a “how to comply?”
- Review current age profile in a way that makes sense to the business. E.g. by department or job function such as customer service or press minders. Split staff into age bands, perhaps by decade, i.e. 20 – 30, 30 – 40, 40 – 50 etc.
Are the results skewed? What are the implications? If predominantly young are you missing out in skills or knowledge? If predominantly older do you have a retirement time bomb where many staff will retire in a short period leaving you to struggle to replace them and their skills / knowledge?
- Review policies on recruitment, selection, promotion and training. Do they favour or disadvantage a particular age group? Why?
- Review job spec.s, and job adverts. Do they specify the knowledge, skills and aptitudes you actually need or are they based on euphemisms and short hand such as “experience”? Update these.
- Review appraisal systems and forms to focus on assessing and developing knowledge, skills and aptitude.
- When thinking about career development and succession planning think about the knowledge and skills required and take positive action to ensure staff gained them rather than waiting for them to “have been around long enough to know.”
- Value the knowledge and skills of older staff and use them to accelerate the learning of younger staff.