Age discrimination in the workplace is becoming a topical discussion point. Recent cases, involving RTÉ and University College Dublin have added to the debate.
According to reports, RTÉ will not appeal the Workplace Relations Commission ("WRC") decision in Valerie Cox v RTÉ. In this case, the WRC decided that Valerie Cox had been discriminated against on the basis of her age, and awarded Ms Cox €50,000. Ms Cox was also reinstated in her position. The Adjudication Officer ("AO") found that there was no reference to a compulsory retirement age of 65 years in either Ms Cox's contract of employment or in the RTÉ staff manual. It was held that RTÉ had failed to objectively justify the termination of Cox's employment at 65 years of age.
The Cox decision was welcomed by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who said he hoped the decision 'sends a signal to the many people who find themselves in similar circumstances to Ms Valerie Cox'. He also noted that 'the Government has agreed to increase the compulsory retirement age from 65 years to 70 for public servants who were recruited before 1 April 2004', and that the Bill intended to give effect to this policy change has been given priority status for the spring-summer session.
In another high profile age discrimination decision published this week, an AO has found that University College Dublin discriminated against a lecturer on the grounds of age, and in terms of access to promotion. In Dr Anne Cleary v University College Dublin, Dr Cleary claimed that she had been discriminated against on gender and age grounds contrary to the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015. Dr Cleary failed on the gender ground, however the AO was satisfied that Dr Cleary had been discriminated on age grounds in terms of promotion, pointing out that 'not a single of the four candidates in the 60-65 age group, to whom the complainant belongs, was promoted'.
Employers are facing increased scrutiny in relation to the hiring and retention of older workers. Evidence suggests that issues in relation to age in the workplace are widespread. According to our Age in the Workplace Report 2016, 87% of those currently unemployed, aged 55 or over, believe that their age has been a factor in their not getting work.
It is likely that age discrimination claims will become more prolific. Nearly 20% of cases referred to the WRC in 2017 concerned allegations of age discrimination [William Fry Research]. It is becoming increasingly important for employers to understand what their legal obligations are in connection with recruiting and retaining older workers, and to develop and implement adequate and appropriate policies and practices.