Age Discrimination – the new Racism?

The number of Age Discrimination Employment Tribunal cases has now overtaken the number of Race discrimination claims, according to Government statistics.  Sex Discrimination claims still remain far and away the most common kinds of Discrimination case to be taken to Tribunal, but it looks as if the many predictions, that Age Discrimination legislation heralded a whole new field of fee-earning potential for employment lawyers, have proved to be true.  Ironically, this news comes at a time when the overall number of ET claims is diminishing although, at nearly 220,000 cases per year, people working for the Employment Tribunal Service won’t be needing to dust off their CVs any time soon.

When the new law first came in, I recall discussing it with an Employment partner at a large UK Legal Practice and – whilst I can’t recall his exact comments – they revolved around the fact that the Government had, at last, provided white, middle-class and middle-aged  men with something to accuse their employer of when they lost their job.  He also predicted that age discrimination claims would form a significant percentage of Tribunal claims in the years to come, so he gets full marks for prescience.

The number of ET cases brought per year is either a terrible indictment of employers’ bad practice, or proof that our employment laws are unfairly weighted on the side of employees, depending on your point of view.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have told managers to follow proper procedures over the years, whether they are trying to deal with poor performance, disciplinary issues or redundancy situations.  It’s a very natural instinct to want to side-step uncomfortable scenarios and confrontation, but ultimately, following a proper procedure gives an employee a chance to put things right and often prevents an expensive pay-off: surely both of these things are desirable?

To revert to the subject of Age Discrimination for a moment, it can hardly have escaped your notice that the default retirement age of 65 is now effectively a thing of the past – which can only lead to even more Age-Related Discrimination claims, I fear.  However, as M’Learned friends are no doubt saying, even as I speak, “It’s an ill wind…..”

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