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Key questions about the new legislation

AGENDA

THE NEW LAW Who does the law cover?

All workers including self-employed, contract workers, office holders, the police and members of trade organisations. People who apply for work and, in some instances, people who have left work.

People taking part in or applying for employment-related vocational training including all courses at further education and higher education institutions.

What do the regulations cover?

They cover direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Employers can be held responsible for the actions of employees in all fou r cases.

Are there any circumstances when treatment on grounds of age will be lawful?

Exemptions will be allowed on genuine occupational requirement and if there is an objective justification.

However, both are likely to be difficult to prove.

The 'test of objective justification' means employers will have to show with evidence that they are pursuing a legitimate aim and that it is a proportionate means of achieving that aim.

The legislation will protect individuals or companies who are forced to discriminate on age grounds to comply with other legislation, eg bar staff serving alcohol must be at least 18.

My employees' pay and benef its vary according to leng th of service. Can this continue?

Benefits based on a length of service requirement of five years or less, the 'five-year exemption', will be exempted and will be able to continue. After the five-year exemption, employers must show there will be an advantage from rewarding loyalty, encouraging the motivation or recognising the experience of workers by awarding benefits on the basis of length of service.

What should I know about the default retirement age?

The default retirement age will be set at 65 for men and women. It means mandatory retirement before that age will be unlawful unless a lower age can be exceptionally objectively justified.

It does not mean you need to set a retirement age at 65 either - you can operate with no retirement age, or set a retirement age of 65 or higher. All employees will have the 'right to request' to work beyond any retirement age.

Employers will have new time-bound esponsibilities to inform employees of their 'right to request' and they will have a 'duty to consider' all such applications.

Where an extension of work is agreed, 'the right to request' and 'duty to consider' will remain in place when retirement is next considered.

What should I do now?

Review your employment policies and practices. Seek advice if you have concerns.

If you do not have access to your own legal advice, Acas is the nominated agency to give advice and guidance on age issues.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW n Age regulations are due to come into force on October 1 this year.

Regulations cover employment and vocational training.

This includes access to help and guidance, recruitment, promotion, development, termination, perks and pay.

The regulations cover people of all ages, both old and young.

All employers, providers of vocational training, trade unions, professional associations and employer organisations will have new obligations to consider.

Upper age limits for unfair dismissal and redundancy will be removed.

A national default retirement age of 65 will be introduced making compulsory retirement below age 65 unlawful (unless objectively just if ied). This will be reviewed in 2011.

All employees will have the 'right to request' to work beyond the default retirement age of 65 or any other retirement age set by the company and all employers will have a 'duty to consider' requests from employees to work beyond 65.

Occupational pensions are covered by the regulations, as are employer contributions to personal pensions.

Employers are advised to refer to the full regulations 'Equality and Diversity: Age Discrimination in Employment and Vocational Training' on the Department of Trade and Industry website