Following the opinion of the Advocate-General, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the UK's compulsory retirement age of 65 is not in breach of EU legislation.
Heyday, a branch of Age Concern, were challenging the lawfulness of regulations 3 and 30 of the Employment Equality (Age Discrimination) Regulations 2006. These regulations permit employers to lawfully retire workers at age 65.
As expected, the ECJ made the following key points in line with the Advocate-General's opinion:
- UK employers are able to retire employees at age 65;
- the compulsory retirement age is lawful providing there is a "legitimate aim" relating to employment and social policy;
- this "legitimate aim" must be "objectively and reasonably" justified, and the means of achieving that aim should be "appropriate and necessary"; and
- it is for the national courts to determine whether or not the compulsory retirement age is justified.
The case will now be remitted to the High Court, where it is very likely that they will find the Government did have a legitimate aim behind the compulsory retirement age. Hundreds of legal actions were stayed pending the ECJ's decision.
Director General of Age Concern Gordon Lishman said: "The Government continues to consign tens of thousands of willing and able older workers to the scrapheap. It is time for ministers to find the courage of their convictions and abolish the default retirement age without further delay." Employment laws governing this area are set to be re-examined, and possibly relaxed, in 2011.
Prior to the ECJ's decision, employers were faced with a degree of concern that the refusal to accede to a request to work beyond 65 could result in successful claims for unfair dismissal and age discrimination. Unless the High Court should somewhat improbably conclude that the Government did not have a legitimate aim behind the compulsory retirement age (which should represent a relatively low hurdle for the Government to overcome) employers should now be able to relax when deciding that employees should not be allowed to work beyond retirement age.