One difficulty for employers since the abolition of the default retirement age in April 2011 has been how to approach the subject of retirement with their older employees in a legitimate context without the perception of any discrimination.
In Quick v Cornwall Council and another ET1701914/2011 an Employment Tribunal held that making age related comments regarding a colleague’s retirement plan were not considered age discrimination in the context of a prolonged disciplinary and restructuring process.
Mrs Quick was the Headmistress of a primary school in Cornwall. Since 2006 Cornwall Council had been discussing partnerships between four local primary schools which meant that retirement and redeployment of some teachers was likely.
Several allegations were made against Mrs Quick during 2009 and 2010 and an investigation took place; however from January 2010 she went on sick leave. In July 2011, after a disciplinary meeting, Mrs Quick was dismissed for serious misconduct and an irretrievable breakdown in trust between the parties.
Mrs Quick claimed in the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and age discrimination, notwithstanding that this was the first time she had raised allegations of age discrimination. Her allegations included:
- A colleague asking if she had plans for retiring;
- A discussion between her and the Chair of Governors (“the Chair”) where her retirement was mentioned;
- A comment of `we will be observing teaching in both classes including her. She`s 59`; and
- A comment of `too many people carry on after they should have retired`.
The Tribunal dismissed both claims. Regarding age discrimination, the Tribunal held that there was no evidence of "less favourable treatment” and the discussions with the Chair were “sensible succession planning” as it was understood that she was intending to retire.
The Tribunal also found that Mrs Quick had never previously raised a grievance regarding age discrimination and that it was sensible for a colleague to ask questions, as Mrs Quick’s plans for retiring would affect their own career aspirations.
The Tribunal’s decision should provide reassurance for employers that retirement conversations can be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner.