Believe it or not, it is more than 12 years since laws aimed at outlawing age discrimination were first introduced here in the UK. In 2011, the law changed again, almost entirely removing the concept of a default or compulsory retirement age. In practical terms, this has meant that since 2011, employers cannot normally compel employees to retire on reaching 65 (or any other particular age).
In the intervening years, there have been one or two high-profile disputes arising out of the decision by a small number of businesses to continue applying a compulsory retirement age. However, most employers have readily adjusted their practices to the new regime.
That said, over the Christmas period, we read with interest an article in The Times in which it was reported that both Cambridge and Oxford University have continued to ‘compulsorily retire’ some of their senior academics on them reaching either 67 or 69 years of age. Apparently, both institutions justify their retirement policies by reference to the need to:
• ensure ‘inter-generational fairness’; and
• ‘refresh’ their workforce and promote equality and diversity.
Quite what all this means in the real world is open to doubt. However, it would be very interesting to see what an Employment Tribunal makes of such policies and whether the justifications put forward by these universities would be weighty enough to make lawful what is otherwise an act of direct age discrimination. We understand that a case against Oxford University has been pursued and was heard towards the end of last year. If and when a decision is published, we’ll let you know what the Employment Tribunal decides.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about age discrimination generally and retirement ages in particular, please get in touch.