The Court of Appeal has confirmed, in Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police v Homer, that a requirement to possess a degree qualification in order to be eligible for an employer's highest pay band did not indirectly discriminate against an employee on the grounds of age, notwithstanding that the employee would not have had sufficient time to undertake the necessary degree qualification prior to retiring at the age of 65.

Mr Homer had been accepted to the post of internal legal advisor for the West Yorkshire Police on the basis of his skills and experience but did not have a law degree. Subsequent employees in the same post were, however, required by the Police to hold a law degree. Following a departmental review, new staff salaries and promotion structures were introduced, with a requirement for employees to have a degree qualification in order to be eligible for the top pay band. Despite meeting all other criteria, Mr Homer was not promoted to the top level because of his lack of degree qualification. Mr Homer claimed that the Police's pay structure requirements were indirectly discriminatory on the grounds of age, on the basis that he would not have time before his retirement age of 65 to complete a law degree qualification.

The Court of Appeal held that the barrier to Mr Homer's progression was not one of age. The barrier was the fact that he would be unable to obtain the qualification for promotion due to his impending retirement. The Court of Appeal held that there was no inequality on the grounds of age, concluding that the same result would arise with any other employees of the Police where they chose to stop working before they were in a postion to obtain the degree qualification.

Impact on employers

  • There was no suggestion by Mr Homer that, in principle, it is more difficult for an older person than a younger person to obtain a degree qualification. This omission appears to have been critical to the failure of his claim. It would be open to employees in similar circumstances to argue the claim on the basis of general disadvantage to older employees and if so, the outcome could well be different.
  • Employers should give careful thought to the conditions they attach to job applications, promotions and pay increases. Whilst imposition of a requirement for an academic qualification will not necessarily be discriminatory, employers are advised to consider whether a requirement for an academic qualification is strictly necessary or could be met in a different way, for example, by relevant experience and an alternative qualification.