Equality body announces guidelines for employers on age discrimination

Compulsory retirement ages may be discrimination unless ‘objectively justified’

Ireland’s equality watchdog has issued guidance on the use of compulsory retirement ages which it warned could be a form of discrimination.

Under Irish and EU law, imposing a compulsory retirement age constitutes “less favourable treatment” on the ground of age, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said.

Imposing a mandatory retirement age can be justified under the law but only if it meets the “objective justification” test meaning that it is a proportionate measure for achieving the legitimate aims of the company.

The issue of compulsory retirement ages has been in the public eye of late after RTÉ was ordered to pay €50,000 to broadcaster Valerie Cox who had worked at the station for 21 years before her retirement.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found she had been discriminated against on age grounds when her contract was not renewed after she turned 65.

Many people now wish to continue to work for longer. They should be able to do so without being treated less favourably or subjected to discrimination

Defending its position, RTÉ told the WRC it has a “considerable interest in ensuring the progress of younger members of staff and for the rotation of staff”.

However the WRC said the RTÉ staff handbook does provide for working beyond 65 years, "at least in relation to this category of employee" such as Ms Cox.

Discriminated against

In its adjudication, the WRC found RTÉ had not established its compulsory retirement age was “objectively justified”, and ruled that Ms Cox had been discriminated against on the basis of her age.

In announcing the new guidelines for employers, the commission highlighted another case, involving a woman who worked for a Government department before being forced to retire when she reached the age of 65.

There are currently three different retirement ages for civil servants: 65, 70 or none, depending on when the employee was recruited.

The woman, who was being advised by the commission, agreed to withdraw the case at the WRC after her employer agreed she could keep her job past 65 with the right to later apply for further extensions.

Cases of age discrimination in employment made up 14 per cent of cases raised by members of the public to the commission under the Employment Equality Acts in 2017.

New guidelines

The commission said the new guidelines will help employers avoid discrimination complaints and will make employees “in an aging workforce” more aware of their rights in the area.

"Many people now wish to continue to work for longer. They should be able to do so without being treated less favourably or subjected to discrimination," IHREC chief commissioner Emily Logan said.

“The commission has consistently highlighted concerns over age related discrimination in the workplace. We are now using the commission’s powers to proactively present guidance to support both employees and employers in combating discrimination.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times