Brain Food: Workplace Rights - New-Age Philosophies

The momentous introduction of laws prohibiting age discrimination by employers is now just 18 months away. Mandatory retirement has been the most contentious issue in developing the legislation. It seems the Government may be moving to abolish the practice of forcing employees to retire simply because they have reached a particular age. As a sop to anxious bosses, this reform is likely to be deferred until 2011. That at least would allow companies time to adapt to having to justify dismissal of older workers on objective grounds - a good incentive to dust down performance management systems and ensure they are consistent, robust and well documented. Other aspects of the new regime will, in contrast, kick in with full vigour from autumn 2006. The law covers all areas of employment - from recruitment to benefits - and outlaws bias against the young and the old. Employers need to start thinking about adapting working practices so as to put them in a position to fend off claims. Ageist jokes and stereotypes will need to become as taboo as racist ones. Job ads using loaded terms such as 'mature' or 'experienced' - or for that matter 'energetic' or 'dynamic' - will also be open to challenge. Grey days ahead for the unwary... Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail: employment@lewissilkin.com.

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