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14:10 on Wednesday
25 February 2004

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Age discrimination deadline announced


In the last week of October, a directive was agreed by the EU that effectively set the deadline for the long-awaited formal introduction of anti-age discrimination legislation in the UK.

The directive, which was passed by the EUís Employment and Social Policy Council introduced measures to outlaw discrimination in a number of areas, in addition to the race and sex discrimination measures already in place.

As a result of the Directive, discrimination on the grounds of religious and sexual orientation, disability and age will become unlawful. The deadlines for the implementation of the new rules are 2003 for sexual orientation and religion, and 2006 for age and disability.

Actions required

HR departments should already have policies to deal with sex and race discrimination, in the form of organisational policies and guidelines. Many will also have in place guidelines on disability, but only a few will have tackled religion, sexual orientation and age.

It is important that we do not discriminate on any grounds, but age discrimination is likely to cause employers the most problems. In many firms, this will require a massive culture change and so planning and implementation of policies must be carefully planned.

Action must start now to identify the possible areas where discrimination on any grounds could occur - think about promotion, redundancy selection, training, and recruitment. You will also need to review your benefits packages to ensure they do not contain any areas where discrimination is a possibility.

Once areas have been identified, you will need to draft policies and procedures which ensure that discrimination does not take place and, most importantly, train all of your staff and management so that they are aware of the importance of their actions and the potential damage they can cause if they get things wrong. If sex and race discrimination cases are anything to go by, the penalties are likely to be severe, and enough to damage any business.

It is fair to say that we have some time before the legislation is introduced, and we do not know the exact form it will take until the regulations are drafted. What we can now say for sure however is that the legislation is on its way, and the better prepared you are, the smoother implementation will be.

In terms of the impact on business, reports indicate that firms that are already encouraging a more diverse workforce are experiencing the benefits this can bring. At the end of the day, the introduction of this legislation should benefit both employers and employees, as the structure of the business reflects more the community it serves.

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This article is an employment law e-ssentials bulletin produced by Hegarty & Co

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