Age Discrimination Legislation Challenges
The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, which came into force on 1 October 2006, implemented into UK law the EC Equal Treatment Framework Directive of 2000, which outlaws age discrimination in employment and vocational training. The UK was one of the last countries in Europe to enact the Directive into domestic law.
The UK Regulations make all retirement ages under 65 illegal unless objectively justified.
Heyday, an organisation for people in or nearing retirement, has challenged the Government over the inclusion of the mandatory retirement age on the grounds that this means that the Regulations do not fully implement the Directive. The organisation wants the legislation amended to give workers over 65 the same protection from discrimination as younger workers. In order to settle this issue, the matter has been referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
In a second challenge to the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, Ann Southcott, a 67-year-old clerical worker at Treliske Hospital in Truro, brought a claim for unfair dismissal and age discrimination after she was dismissed from her post on 30 September 2006, just one day before the Regulations came into force. The timing of her dismissal meant that instead of being entitled to 11 months’ pay, she would only receive the contractual requirement of 11 weeks’ pay – equivalent to her notice period. Mrs Southcott was one of a group of workers dismissed at the same time.
Following a preliminary Employment Tribunal (ET) hearing, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust agreed to reinstate Mrs Southcott and her fellow workers.
The fact that the ET did not reject the claim because the dismissals took place before the age discrimination legislation came into force in the UK is significant. It follows a ruling in a German employment law case in 2006 (Mangold v Helm), involving a private sector employer, which concerned the compatibility with the Equal Treatment Framework Directive of age related exemptions to the provisions governing the employment contracts of fixed-term employees. At that time, the ECJ held that it is the responsibility of national courts to ‘guarantee the full effectiveness of the general principle of non-discrimination in respect of age, setting aside any provision of national law which may conflict with Community law, even where the period prescribed for transportation of that Directive [into national law] has not yet expired.’
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