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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Q&A: Age discrimination law
Age Concern poster about ageism
New laws aim to tackle ingrained beliefs about older workers

The biggest shake-up in workplace anti-discrimination laws for over a quarter of a century will come into force in October.

BBC News examines what this mean for employers and their staff

How is the law set to change?

On 1 October the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 come into force.

The upshot of this EU inspired law is that it will be unlawful to discriminate against workers under the age of 65 on the grounds of age.

Making someone redundant or barring workers from training or promotion because they are too old - or too young - will be illegal.

As they approach 65, workers will have to be given six months notice that their employer wants them to give up their job and retire.

The employee will be allowed to request to continue working,

However, employers will be able to refuse this request without giving a reason in writing.

My father, who is his fifties, lost his job recently. Will this new law make it easier for him to find employment?

Workers cannot be sacked for being too old or too young, as long as they are under 65
Workers will have the right to request that they work beyond age 65
Employers will have to give their staff six months notice of when they expect them to retire
Ageist recruiting practices are to be outlawed
Employers will have to treat all workers equally when it comes to training, regardless of age

It depends.

In future, firms are not supposed to refuse employment to the under 65s on the grounds of age.

Therefore, if your father applies for a job and is told he is too old then that will be a clear cut case of discrimination.

In addition, it will be unlawful to specify an ideal applicants age in job advertising, even using words like "energetic" may be considered ageist and discriminatory.

But age campaigners recognise that it will take a long time for ingrained ageist attitudes to change.

There is still likely to be many industries where being young will still be a distinct advantage in terms of recruitment, promotion and training.

Man checking job ads in newspaper
Firms will have to mind their language in job ads

Are there any industries which are exempt from the forthcoming age law?

Industries where retirement before 65 can be "objectively justified" will be exempt.

Justification may come from the physical nature of the job.

For example, it is difficult to imagine a 65-year-old being able to work as a firefighter.

But there are less clear-cut cases which may only be tested in law.

Simon Briault, spokesman at the Federation of Small Businesses, cited the example of a clothes shop targeting teenage girls wanting to employ people of a similar age. How would a tribunal look at such an approach?

Most UK industries, though, will not be exempt from the age law.

Some industries, such as advertising and the media - which have something of a reputation for ingrained ageist hiring and firing policies - will have to mend their ways.

Could this lead to a rash of employment tribunal cases?

Recruitment bodies have warned employers to be braced for a surge in the number of unfair dismissal cases as a result of the new law.

Their concerns may well be justified, if you consider the experience of Ireland, which adopted similar age laws in 1998, and where tribunal cases are on the rise.

But Denmark, which adopted similar legislation in 2004, has only seen two tribunal cases brought on the grounds of age discrimination.

Viv du-Feu, international head of employment at law firm Eversheds, told BBC News that the Danish experience showed that it takes a while for workers to become aware of their new rights.

In short, there is likely to be time-lag between the law coming into force and age discrimination cases being brought.

In the longer term, experts have suggested that the number of age discrimination cases will level out as firms amend their employment practices.

Does all this mean that I am not allowed to retire early?

It means nothing of the sort. You are free to retire any time you choose, if you can afford it.

If, for example, you are lucky enough to have a pension which pays benefits at 60 you can resign from your job - in effect retire - and live off your pension.

One thing that may change, though, is the trend for firms to coax employees into retiring early.

A firm which decides, off its own bat, to offer older workers early retirement - rather than offer voluntary redundancy to all staff - may find itself in contravention of the age law.

Why has the law changed?

Between the mid 1970s and 1990s, the proportion of men over the age of 50 in employment fell dramatically.

Partly, this was due to the decline of traditional manufacturing industry. But, in addition, firms and the public sector actively sought to restructure the workforce, getting rid of older staff.

It is widely acknowledged that age discrimination is still endemic in some UK industries.

The problem is that the UK has an ageing population, and in order to pay for pensions people are going to have to work for longer.

Age campaigners hope that the new discrimination law will lead to a cultural change, and that older workers will become more valued within the workforce.

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