January 4

Workplace stress and how to deal with it.

Around one in five people suffer from workplace stress in the UK with half a million reporting illness as a result of job-related pressures. Stress and stress-related illnesses such as depression are among the most challenging issues for employers and a failure to address them properly can leave you exposed to constructive dismissal, negligence and disability discrimination claims. Whilst there is no specific law that deals with workplace stress, employers are obliged by law to be responsible for employee health and safety in the workplace – and managing workplace stress is considered an area of that responsibility.

Many factors can cause stress at work but common triggers are overwork, job insecurity, over-promotion, lack of training, bad working relationships, bullying and harassment, change and personal issues. Understanding what is causing an employee to be stressed is key to managing it.

Talk to your employee

As soon as you have been alerted to a potential issue, you should meet with the employee, discuss the problem and work with him to identify possible solutions. You may also wish to speak to managers and colleagues to understand the situation more fully.

Take action
• Stress caused by genuine overwork: try to identify ways to reduce that workload, by reassigning duties on a temporary or permanent basis or providing additional resources. Do remember to consult with the employee before taking a decision to reassign part of their duties, as doing so unilaterally could give grounds for a constructive dismissal claim.
• Stress caused by difficult working relationships: steps should be taken to try to resolve those relationship issues, through workplace counselling or reallocation of duties.
• Stress due to personal issues: it might be appropriate to consider allowing a short period of unpaid leave or a temporary period of flexible working.

Seek medical opinion

However sceptical the employer is, it is always advisable to consider seeking a medical assessment particularly where the employee has a stress-related illness, such as depression – note that the complaint can be genuine even if the trigger seems objectively pretty trivial. The doctor should assess the employee’s current state of health, the causes of the problem, and any recommended steps to address the situation. Any recommendations that are reasonably practicable should be implemented. If a recommendation is not feasible, make a note of why.
Reasonable adjustments

Where an employee’s stress or depression renders him ‘disabled’ for the purposes of the Equality Act, you will then be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage suffered as a result of the ‘disability’. A failure to do so will constitute disability discrimination. Advice from a doctor as to possible adjustments will be particularly important as a tribunal will scrutinize the extent to which you comply with any recommendations.
Return to work

When the employee returns to work, you should meet with him to clarify your understanding of his current state of health and to talk about any temporary or permanent adjustments in place to facilitate his return. Make notes so there is no confusion later as to what was agreed.

Communication throughout absence

Regular communication must be maintained with an absent employee claiming workplace stress – an employee who is too unwell to work is not necessarily incapable of communicating with their employer. You may have to consider offering to go to their house to discuss the situation instead or ask them to set out their concerns in writing. In all cases, whether a complaint of stress or a full-blown grievance, the employee should be asked what steps he believes should be taken to address the situation, but the employer is not bound by replies.

Dismissing a stressed employee

You should make reasonable efforts to assist an employee who is off with stress, but there may come a point when you have to consider dismissing him due to continued inability to perform the role. Any dismissal must be handled sensitively and carefully to avoid claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination, as follows:

• Obtain an up-to-date medical assessment of the employee’s state of health in order to understand the prognosis and the type of work he might be able to do in the short term;
• Consider any alternative roles before dismissing;
• The employee should be given the opportunity to discuss the proposed dismissal and comment on the employer’s assessment of his state of health and ability to work.

• Whether or not the illness is claimed (or even proven) to be your fault, continued incapability can still be a fair reason for a dismissal.

December 24

“Bah, humbug!” Or, a good time to be had by all . . .

Christmas lights have been switched on, decorations are up, seasonal adverts are on the television and Slade is blasted out all over! Employees will by now know what format their Christmas party is going to take – employers often dread it because it hits their pockets and they are often left to deal with the various issues that arise out of it. By knowing the risks and taking steps to reduce them, employers can ensure it is a harmonious event for all.
Employers are liable for the acts of their employees that are performed in the ‘course of their employment.’ The conduct of staff members at an office party is generally considered to be in the course of their employment, even if the party takes place away from the company’s premises and outside of working hours. Managers are therefore still responsible for the conduct of their staff and should ensure that they are aware of the level of behaviour expected of them and that employment policies that apply during working hours still apply to the party. Employers should ensure that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent misconduct; a sensible starting point is to dismiss, from the outset, the notion that ‘anything goes’ at the Christmas party.
It is worth noting that employers are also responsible for the actions of third parties – namely entertainers or after dinner speakers. Employers need to warn their entertainers as to what is not acceptable in the same way they would their own staff.
Employers should have in place a fair procedure to consider any complaints from employees and employees should be reminded of the procedure in advance of the party. Any failure to deal with a grievance properly and in accordance with the company’s procedures may result in a claim to the employment tribunal, whether on the grounds of discrimination, harassment or a breach of contract.
Many of the issues that arise from Christmas parties stem from employees drinking too much. If employees are expected to come into work the following day, they need to be aware that they can be disciplined for any unauthorised absence. That said, if they are expected to return to work immediately after an event and alcohol has been provided by the employer, it may be unfair to dismiss an employee by reason of misconduct due to the fact that the employee is under the influence. Encouraging or condoning consumption of alcohol during the party will be a mitigating factor if the matter is taken to an employment tribunal. Ensuring that sufficient non-alcoholic beverages are available to those under eighteen, and those not wishing to have alcohol, especially if this is on religious grounds, will help to avoid causing offence and encourage sensible drinking. Focusing the party around a meal or entertainment rather than the provision of drinks will ensure that those who do not drink alcohol feel included.
Keep in mind that an employer’s duty of care extends beyond the Christmas party, and as such employers should not allow anyone who has consumed alcohol to drive when leaving the party – you may want to provide contacts numbers for local taxis or provide buses or coaches to take them home.
It is important to consider whether reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that on every level the party caters for all employees – such as the venue, the food, and the entertainment. As such, employers should be sure to book suitable entertainment which will not include any comments that may be deemed as discriminatory or harassment. Meat-free options should be provided for vegetarians and those with restricted diets due to their religion, and every effort should be made to ensure the venue is accessible for any employee with a disability.
The most important thing is to ensure that all staff enjoy themselves without overstepping these boundaries, and that all employees feel included in the festivities regardless of their religious beliefs. Ensuring that the risks have been considered and prepared for, and that there are suitable policies and procedures in place, will leave employers free to enjoy the party rather than worry about what the following day may bring.

The second most important thing is to ensure that the fine line between sowing a seed of sensibility and being a kill joy is trodden carefully!

November 14

Do you need a social media policy?

The Institute of Employment Studies recently published a paper highlighting the difficulties some employers are having in setting standards of behaviour for the use of social networking tools. The report advises employers to take a common sense stance to regulating behaviour and to draw on norms that might apply in non-virtual settings. In other words, treat ‘electronic behaviour’ as you would treat ‘non-electronic behaviour’.
Why bother setting such standards? Do employers really need to draft yet another policy – a social media policy? The answer is, on the whole, a resounding ‘yes’!
Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, your employees are communicating with the outside world on a regular basis. But do you know what they are saying and is it good for your business?
The use and abuse of social media sites has been a hot news topic this past year and only last week the Court ordered nine ‘Tweeters’ to pay a rape victim compensation after they disclosed her identity on Twitter and Facebook. The Tweeters were unaware that this was a criminal offence but the Court held that ignorance of the law was no defence.
There are many similar well publicised examples, all of which increase the pressure on employers to ensure their employees use social media responsibly. The reason being that if employees implicate, directly or indirectly, their employers in tweets, postings, blogs or emails which are potentially criminal or grossly offensive or discriminatory, the employer could be vicariously liable for those acts. The bottom line is that the employer could face legal action if comments made in the company’s name break the law.
It should also be made clear that conduct by an employee on social media that is perceived to be offensive or inappropriate but which was carried out away from the work place in the individual’s private time could also lead to disciplinary action being taken against them.
The starting point is that employers are not obliged to disregard conduct simply because it occurs outside the workplace. There will clearly be a case for disciplinary action if the conduct is not private in nature and where the link to a particular employer is readily identifiable. Examples of this might include inappropriate comments made on LinkedIn (where the name of the employer is clear) or on Facebook, where an individual’s employer may be listed on his profile.
However, where conduct is ostensibly private and comments on social media cannot be obviously linked to the employer, the key question is whether the conduct, once discovered by the employer, has an impact on the employee’s ability to do his job. Employers will, therefore, need to take into account such factors as the nature of the offence committed, the nature and status of the work done by the employee and, in particular, the extent to which the employee’s role requires the employer to place trust in the employee.
Whilst considering the impact of social media, a further issue is the fact that many companies have problems with employees who are continually ‘distracted’ by social communication during the working day. The jury is out on just how much it costs companies when employees use social media sites but an organisation with 100 staff could lose over 16 working hours every day if each person checked texts and Facebook posts for just 10 minutes.
Employers would be well advised to put in place a social media policy which makes clear to employees the approach that their employers will take to conduct in both the professional and private sphere. A social media policy educates employees and sets down the ground rules. A social media policy can give a firm a benchmark so it can enforce the policy. Employers need to set out what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, so that they have a case if someone breaches the policy. It should state that:
• Employees must behave professionally and should not mix personal and business in ways likely to bring the employer into disrepute.
• Employees should not undermine their effectiveness at work.
• Employees should not imply their employer’s endorsement of their personal views.
• Employees should not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

It is surprising how many organisations still don’t have any sort of IT or social media policy particularly given that analysis shows that the peak time for social media traffic is during working hours. A social media policy is a comprehensive set of rules that will help staff remain focused and so drive up productivity – this can be achieved quickly and easily and at very little cost to the business.

October 10

With the onset of winter comes the rise in absenteeism . . .

Rates in staff absenteeism soar in winter and unexpected absences can affect business productivity and profits. If they become a regular occurrence they may affect morale and motivation.
A real ‘sticking’ point for employers facing absenteeism is making the decision as to whether the absence of their employees is genuine or not. In a CBI Absence Study in 2011, almost a third of employers reported believing that more than 20% of their staff absence was not genuine, with 93% believing that sick notes were issued too readily by GPs. Illnesses such as colds and flu were the most frequently mentioned reason for sick leave; stress the second most common; followed by complaints of back pain and recurring medical conditions.
While it may be difficult to plan for unexpected absences, as an employer there are steps you can take to help you deal with the problem and minimise the potential disruption:
• Ensure staff understand the sickness absence policy and that it is followed consistently throughout the business.
• An effective policy should cover the following: 
– Method of notification if an employee is late, ill or absent for any other reason 
– When they should submit a self-certification form or medical certificate,
– Sick pay arrangements, 
– The occasions when time off may be permitted, 
– The consequences of not complying with the policy.
• Make it company policy to always carry out a ‘return to work’ interview – to welcome back the employee, check they are well enough to be back at work, find out why they were away and update them with any news. It may also deter staff from feigning illness.
• By implementing a common practice for recording sick days, you can glean key data such as the number of working days lost, the frequency of an employee’s sickness and whether absenteeism is more commonplace within a particular department. This may help you detect and tackle any underlying issues such as workplace bullying.
• Unhappy staff are more likely to take time off. Creating a friendly environment, where staff feel valued as part of a team and where flexible, family friendly policies are in place is likely to prove more effective at keeping absenteeism to a minimum.
• Cases of genuine long-term sickness or regular occurrences of short-term sickness, should be handled sensitively. Regular contact with an absent employee will help to prevent them from feeling isolated and will provide you with a clearer idea of their situation. You should establish whether their illness amounts to a disability and if so reasonable adjustments must be made to help the employee return to work and carry out their role more easily.

The CBI Absence Study in 2011 reported that staff are each absent from work for, on average, 6.5 days a year. Unauthorised absence is normally the ‘odd day off’– whether paid or unpaid it is costly to an organisation as it is unpredictable and can result in deadlines being missed, lowered customer satisfaction, lower moral among colleagues and even lost business. Setting out clear policies, monitoring absences and understanding your legal requirements will enable you to keep on top of the issues and hopefully reduce the amount of absenteeism within the workplace.

September 6

The Paralympics have shown just what disabled people are capable of, with support and when they are valued . . .

The Paralympics are a great reminder of the success that can be achieved by overcoming barriers presented by disability. Employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage suffered by a disabled employee, but there are other incentives for making these adjustments besides merely avoiding liability for discrimination claims – many businesses enjoy a number of benefits from being equal opportunities employers.
Employers who make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and promote equality of opportunity in their workforce in other ways are more likely to attract and retain a wider and more diverse pool of talent and expertise.
Making reasonable adjustments means disabled employees feel valued and supported and this often improves morale and employee loyalty. Significantly, making reasonable adjustments will often mean that the employee is better able to carry out their work; leading to improved productivity and performance. Such improvements in performance and morale will also likely lead to a reduction in absenteeism.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where a ‘provision, practice or criterion’ of the employer puts a disabled employee or job applicant at a substantial disadvantage compared to others. A failure to do so will amount to disability discrimination.
Adjustments can be wide ranging, may be major or minor and what is ‘reasonable’ will depend on a number of factors and will vary from organisation to organisation.
The types of reasonable adjustments include, but are by no means limited to, the following:
• Changing the work location of the employee: a more accessible floor, a different site or allowing the employee to work from home.
• Making changes to the workplace such as installing ramps, lifts or stair lifts.
• Changes to equipment: such as chairs, screen raisers or magnifying screens.
• Changing the way information is communicated: in writing rather than orally where possible, or vice versa, and using different font sizes, colours and language.
• Offering employees access to services such as counselling.
• For mental health disabilities, such as depression, a ‘buddy’ system may be implemented whereby the employee is assigned a mentor.
• For a dyslexic employee, an employer may install text-to-speech software, specialist spell-check and timekeeping packages and assist with checking written work.

However, what is a ‘reasonable’ adjustment for an employer to make will vary according to factors such as: the extent to which the adjustment is practical and effective in removing the disadvantage, the financial costs involved, the alternative options and the size, nature and resources of the business. It is worth reiterating however, that employers should also keep in mind the benefits of making reasonable adjustments and of being an equal opportunities employer.

September 1

Appraising teachers in a more ‘commercial’ fashion . . .


The new arrangements for teacher appraisal that came into effect on 1 September 2012 specifically apply to maintained schools, but independent schools would be ill advised to ignore the spirit of the regulations at the very least.
The main thrust of the guidance is to remove the overlap between the current appraisal and capability systems enabling underperformance to be tackled more swiftly and effectively.
Teachers must now be appraised annually against a set of goals and targets that will have been decided on the basis of the outcome of their previous annual appraisal, but also following consultation with the teacher concerned – by involving teachers in the process, rather than taking a ‘top down’ prescriptive approach, teachers are more involved and positive about the appraisal process which means appraisals are much more likely to encourage and support progress and improvement.
Although schools previously had some sort of appraisal system in place it was often termed ‘performance management’ which is very misleading, because the two are so very different – appraisal is a means of monitoring the performance of a teacher whereas ‘performance management’ is a method used within a capability process ostensibly to improve performance but in reality often the beginning of the inevitable slow march to dismissal.
The recent changes to the capability procedure bring it in line with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures and make the process shorter and less complex than was previously the case. The most important change is that the suggested length of the monitoring and review period of a teacher following a first warning has been reduced from 20 weeks to between 4 and 10 weeks. Although the guidance makes it clear that the length of the review period must be reasonable in the circumstances of each case and must provide sufficient time for improvements to take place, this is, nonetheless, likely to lead to a speeding up of the process in which schools can, and probably will, deal with underperforming teachers. Previously, a school would have had its work cut out persuading an employment tribunal that a period of review less than 20 weeks was reasonable, now it seems that it would become a much easier task.
Private sector employers do not commonly have explicit written prescribed methods, but if they did it is unlikely that they would be as long as 20 weeks. The range of 4 to 10 weeks (although in fairness probably the upper end of that) is far more reasonable with all relevant factors being considered, just as private employers do.

Independent schools are not obliged to follow this recently introduced guidance but your school is a business and these suggestions are all commercially sound and adopted by private sector employers in every sector of the marketplace. A structured process of appraisal coupled with a clear capability policy is essential in ensuring employees are supported, if necessary, whilst they reach their potential but their employment may be fairly terminated if it becomes clear that such potential will not be reached.

July 6

Employers should start preparing for the new pensions regime.


From October 2012 a new pensions regime will start to be phased in which will eventually, by 2017, require all employers in the UK to automatically enrol eligible staff into some sort of pension scheme and importantly, for the first time, to pay minimum contributions.
Employers will have to automatically enrol eligible staff in either the Government’s scheme – The National Employment Savings Trust (‘NEST’) – or an alternative scheme which meets the qualifying conditions as laid down in the legislation; this could be an existing occupational or personal pension scheme. Eligible staff will be able to opt out if they wish but employers will have a duty to re-enrol individuals who have opted out every three years.
The aim of the legislation is to encourage those who have not traditionally contributed to a pension to build up provision for their old age. It is therefore expected that many more staff than at present will become members of pension schemes and this will involve a significant increase in administration and record keeping for employers.
Experts are warning that it will take at least a year of planning ahead of the staging date to implement a suitable scheme and so employers need to start preparing sooner rather than later with the key steps being:
• To check the organisation’s staging date
• To assess your workforce
• To choose a compliant pension scheme or review your existing pension scheme
• To communicate the changes to all your workforce
• To automatically enrol your ‘eligible jobholders’
• To register with The Pensions Regulator and keep records
Every employer, no matter how small, will have to implement a staff scheme or face the threat of fines and even prison. The potential financial sanctions for failure make non-compliance a distinctly unattractive option.
There are also considerable advantages to firms, in terms of staff retention and motivation, from providing a good pension scheme. Pensions are a valued employee benefit and organisations should factor in the retention, recruitment and motivational benefits of their firm’s bottom line when deciding not only in which scheme to enrol staff, but also what level of contribution they will be making to their employees’ funds.
A key benefit to employers of not waiting until the last minute to set up their pension scheme is the forecast impact on the bottom line. At the staging date, all of a sudden an organisation is going to have to put in 3% of its salary bill as a contribution into a pension. However, if you start in advance of your staging date you will be able to take that cash flow hit more gradually and, in addition, you will be able to offset the contributions against pay rises that you may want to give to your employees. What you can’t do is wait until your staging date and then give all your employees a 3% wage cut in order to put the money into the pension fund – it is illegal to do that under the new legislation.

There are definite financial advantages for firms in not leaving auto-enrolment to the last minute. Offering a decent pension is proven to be a sound business move, and there is an abundance of suppliers and advisers out there ready, willing and able to help you through the process.

June 6

Boost productivity by adopting flexible and home working.


With the Olympics nearly upon us the merits, and otherwise, of ‘home working’ have been discussed in businesses both in London and where regionalised events are taking place. However, leaving the Olympics aside, employers are increasingly adopting flexible and home working practices as a corporate strategy because it makes good financial sense.
Although remote workers are thought to complicate a manager’s job, a highly distributed workplace has too many potential advantages to dismiss.
O2 conducted a pilot during February this year, in which staff who would normally work in an office were compelled to work from home. This helped employers to see very clearly the cost savings available with a policy of home working:
Of the 3,000 workers subjected to the pilot, just 125 ‘mission critical’ people worked from their desks as normal. The remaining staff saved a collective £9,000 in reduced commuting costs, while 14 percent said they saw more of their families and 36 percent said they were more productive than when at work. An additional 12,000 hours, time otherwise spent commuting, was spent working. Workers said they spent a further 1,000 extra hours sleeping and otherwise relaxing.
The top five reasons why employers can benefit from home working are:
Better staff recruitment and retention – Home working can widen the recruitment pool by attracting people who have traditionally struggled to find work, such as single parents, those with disabilities and those workers who are geographically isolated. In addition, lifestyle concerns can easily trump salaries in a top worker’s decision process.
Improved motivation and productivity – Employees are more likely to have a high morale where employers are seen to take account of their needs. Employees who enjoy flexible working are better at meeting tight deadlines, will put in the extra mile when the business needs it and take time off when more convenient, improving personal productivity.
Improving the quality and reputation of the service – Good employment practices can enhance the reputation of a business. Home working and flexible working can extend the hours when businesses are in touch with customers.
Reduction of sickness absence and travel costs – Not working in an office environment can reduce exposure to colds, flu and other contagious diseases. Cutting out the commute can reduce stress. Motivated staff are less likely to take sick leave, another way in which the business may benefit from increasing productivity.
Infrastructure cost savings – Home working can save on car parking space, office rent and running costs. Businesses save millions each year through flexible and home working, whilst Suffolk County Council is an example of an organisation that was able to cut the size of its new central services office block by one third by using these practices.
In today’s world, true competitive advantage in business is being able to anticipate change, react quickly and be there 24/7. With flexible working in place you can do just that, creating a new way of working that takes into account business productivity factors as well as improving quality of life for your employees and yourself.

Considering the aforementioned benefits, it would be wise for employers to think about incorporating a work from home policy, or expanding their current policy. In the past, home working has sometimes been considered a risk for employers. However, as technology advances and business norms change, it could soon be more of a risk not to incorporate home working into talent management.

June 1

Boost productivity by adopting flexible and home working.


With the Olympics nearly upon us the merits, and otherwise, of ‘home working’ have been discussed in businesses both in London and where regionalised events are taking place. However, leaving the Olympics aside, employers are increasingly adopting flexible and home working practices as a corporate strategy because it makes good financial sense.
Although remote workers are thought to complicate a manager’s job, a highly distributed workplace has too many potential advantages to dismiss.
O2 conducted a pilot during February this year, in which staff who would normally work in an office were compelled to work from home. This helped employers to see very clearly the cost savings available with a policy of home working:
Of the 3,000 workers subjected to the pilot, just 125 ‘mission critical’ people worked from their desks as normal. The remaining staff saved a collective £9,000 in reduced commuting costs, while 14 percent said they saw more of their families and 36 percent said they were more productive than when at work. An additional 12,000 hours, time otherwise spent commuting, was spent working. Workers said they spent a further 1,000 extra hours sleeping and otherwise relaxing.
The top five reasons why employers can benefit from home working are:
Better staff recruitment and retention – Home working can widen the recruitment pool by attracting people who have traditionally struggled to find work, such as single parents, those with disabilities and those workers who are geographically isolated. In addition, lifestyle concerns can easily trump salaries in a top worker’s decision process.
Improved motivation and productivity – Employees are more likely to have a high morale where employers are seen to take account of their needs. Employees who enjoy flexible working are better at meeting tight deadlines, will put in the extra mile when the business needs it and take time off when more convenient, improving personal productivity.
Improving the quality and reputation of the service – Good employment practices can enhance the reputation of a business. Home working and flexible working can extend the hours when businesses are in touch with customers.
Reduction of sickness absence and travel costs – Not working in an office environment can reduce exposure to colds, flu and other contagious diseases. Cutting out the commute can reduce stress. Motivated staff are less likely to take sick leave, another way in which the business may benefit from increasing productivity.
Infrastructure cost savings – Home working can save on car parking space, office rent and running costs. Businesses save millions each year through flexible and home working, whilst Suffolk County Council is an example of an organisation that was able to cut the size of its new central services office block by one third by using these practices.
In today’s world, true competitive advantage in business is being able to anticipate change, react quickly and be there 24/7. With flexible working in place you can do just that, creating a new way of working that takes into account business productivity factors as well as improving quality of life for your employees and yourself.

Considering the aforementioned benefits, it would be wise for employers to think about incorporating a work from home policy, or expanding their current policy. In the past, home working has sometimes been considered a risk for employers. However, as technology advances and business norms change, it could soon be more of a risk not to incorporate home working into talent management.

May 16

Landmark ruling on compulsory retirement age.


A landmark ruling by the UK Supreme Court last week has said that employers are entitled to set a compulsory retirement age if they can prove there is a legitimate reason for doing so. This is despite the change in the law last October which stopped employers compulsorily retiring workers at 65. The important distinction with this ruling is that the Court only said it was acceptable to force an employee to retire, not that it was acceptable to force a retirement at 65. It is therefore possible to justify a retirement age, not the retirement age of 65.
The Court set out new guidelines enabling an employer to dismiss on grounds of age, as follows:

  • They must consider a range of alternatives to retirement
  • They must be able to show specific public interest justification in each 
case where retirement is imposed – ie:
  • It will make it easier to recruit younger workers
  • It will enable promotion of middle management
  • It will enable employers to plan their workforce for the future and train others
  • It will enable the careers of older workers to end with ‘dignity’, rather than being dismissed for poor performance
  • They need to show they have considered other options such as flexible working hours or allowing employees to stay on for a short period.

What is important is that employers need to show these aims are legitimate and are being genuinely pursued. For example, improving the recruitment of young people in order to achieve a balanced and diverse workforce is, in principle, a legitimate aim. However, if in fact there is no problem in recruiting the young and the problem is in retaining the older and more experienced workers then it may not be a legitimate aim for the business concerned.
The situation following this ruling ought to be welcomed by employers. The legislation that came in to force in October, preventing compulsory retirement at 65, caused uncertainty as they were worried about asking workers aged 65 or over to leave the business for fear of being accused of ageism. This Court ruling has made the law clearer in that it reinforces the fact that workers cannot be retired just because of ‘stereotypes’ of age, but is very clear about the fact that they can be forced to retire where a business can justify a compulsory retirement age based on legitimate aims, provided they are proportionate.

This Court ruling has not specified what the correct age is to retire somebody – rather, it has sent the clear message that the abolition of the default retirement age of 65 does not mean employees cannot be retired at a given age, it just means it needs to be a more considered decision than previously was the case.

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