Workplace Rights: The retirement riddle

The most controversial aspect of the UK's age discrimination laws is their application to retirement. What could be more ageist than forcibly terminating a person's career solely because their 65th birthday has arrived, regardless of their capabilities or performance? Yet that is just what the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations allow employers to do - so long as they go through the motions of considering the individual's request to continue working beyond 65. Heyday, the retirement organisation, was unhappy about this state of affairs. It challenged the legality of the retirement rules in the High Court, arguing that they breached EU discrimination laws. At the hearing, the Government conceded the matter would have to be referred to the European Court in Luxembourg for a ruling (unlikely before next year). In the meantime, employers can safely rely on the status quo of mandatory retirement at or above 65 being lawful - at least in the private sector. Employers in the public sector are vulnerable to claims from employees they decide to retire, who may be entitled to rely directly on European law to contest their treatment. In the longer term, all employers should consider how they would manage without a retirement age altogether. Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, e-mail:

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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