The issue of compulsory retirement continues to remain firmly in the spotlight. A Private Members Bill to abolish retirement ages, both for the private sector and most of the public sector was introduced by a Labour back bench TD recently. Being a Private Members Bill, it is not yet clear whether the Government will support the Bill. Nonetheless its introduction continues to highlight the ongoing topical nature of the issue. This is particularly so given the increase in the State pension age to 66 from 1 January 2014 with further increases due incrementally in 2021 and 2128 to 67 and 68 respectively.
The Irish legislative position is that under the Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2011 (the EEAs) an employer may impose a compulsory retirement age without falling foul of the legislation. However, despite this a body of case law has emerged from the Equality Tribunal which states that an employer must be in a position to establish that the retirement age serves a legitimate aim or purpose and the means of achieving that aim or purpose are appropriate or necessary. This line of thinking evolved from the wording of the European grounding directive underpinning the Irish legislation and a number of Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions.
Last year's Labour Court decision in Hospira v. Roper & Others1 raised the possibility that this decision may impact on future compulsory retirement cases and the rationale applied. In the Hospira case the Court held that differences in the level of redundancy payments paid to the complainants, as compared to their younger comparators, fell within the exception to age discrimination permitted by Section 34(3)(d) of the EEAs. As it fell within this exception, it did not require justification. On foot of this, views were expressed that this rationale may impact on future compulsory retirement cases coming before the Court and perhaps the Court would rely on Section 34(4) as drafted without the requirement for objective justification. However, to date, the only determination on this point has not followed the Hospira reasoning. In the case of John Roche v Complete Bar Solutions2 the employer succeeded in objectively justifying a compulsory retirement age of 65. Indeed the case explicitly referred to the aforementioned Hospira case and said that the case at hand differed from Hospira as that related solely to Section 34(3) of the EEAs and enhanced redundancy payments.
Further determinations will be necessary from the Equality Tribunal/Labour Court in order to crystallise the Court/Tribunal's views on the matter.