No Barrier To Employment


It might seem extraordinary, but until recently
British employers had total freedom to discriminate against their staff on the
grounds of age. They could reject a job applicant, or turn them down for
promotion simply because they were too old or too young.

The new
Employment Equality (Age) Regulations have changed all that. Age
discrimination in the workplace – including ageist comments – is now outlawed.
And employees will have the right to request to continue working after 65
(though employers don’t have to agree to it).

The new rules are welcome
and indeed long overdue, coming as they do four decades after the race equality
laws.

Unfortunately, employers aren’t celebrating as these new rules are
set to tie them up in knots. Firms won’t be able to advertise for a "young,
dynamic employee", "a recent graduate", or a "mature candidate". Keeping the
elderly in work longer will merely encourage them to cling to jobs that the
young would otherwise have. And if businesses do try to cut away the dead wood,
lawyers will be the main beneficiaries.

The US saw a 40% increase in
employment cases when it’s Age Discrimination Act was introduced, and our
Parliament hasn’t even voted on these constricting regulations. They are – as
you may have guessed – the result of a diktat from the European Commission.

We heard exactly the same sort of whingeing when the Sex Discrimination
and Race Relations Acts were introduced, but this is an eminently sensible piece
of legislation, giving due scope for what is called objective justification:
genuine reasons for needing employees of a certain age. Gyms won’t be forced to
recruit doddery old men; and firms looking for experienced executives will be
able to turn down callow 18-year-olds.

Doing away with ageism in the
workplace is not just morally right, it’s a necessity. Life expectancy is rising
and pensions are shrinking. Within 15 years, people over 50 will have to make up
one-third of the entire workforce: the health of the economy will rely on
convincing older workers that they’re not "passed it".

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