It is now just over a year since the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 came into force. They were presaged by a fanfare of publicity and caused employers huge amounts of concern. A year on many employment lawyers are wondering what all the fuss was about. The cases haven’t been flooding through the doors and, according to the Employment Tribunal’s own figures only 972 cases have been lodged that allege age discrimination since the Regulations came into force. This compares with almost 44,500 claims for unfair dismissal and 44,000 for equal pay in 2006/7. In the same period there were 28,153 claims for sex discrimination. Not quite the massive number that was feared.
There have been few high profile cases involving age – although the case involving a former partner at City law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has recently been decided (in favour of the firm). The Claimant alleged that the firm had altered its pension rules in order to force out older partners and it was billed as the first major test of the age discrimination legislation. He lost because the firm was able to justify taking the action to amend its pension scheme rules. The age discrimination rules are different to the other forms of discrimination legislation (race, sex, disability etc) because the employer is allowed to discriminate on grounds of race if they can justify the action they are taking.
Often new legislation can take a long time to settle down before the claims start coming in – but what makes the low numbers of age discrimination claims surprising is the publicity that was given before the legislation came in.
This article first appeared in the “Docklands” newspaper