The case revolved around Leslie Seldon, a partner in a solicitors firm who was forced to retire when he reached the age of 65 in December 2006. He took his case to an employment tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal and, after losing in all three, finally the Supreme Court.
While the ruling sends Mr Seldon’s case back to an Employment Tribunal for re-examination, the court’s unanimous ruling has established new ground rules which will shape the way employers can behave towards older employees.
- Stereotypes in which age is used as a proxy for continuing competency and capability “no longer hold good (if they ever did ) in times of increasing longevity where there are benefits both to individuals and to wider society if people continue to work for as long as they can. Put simply, the younger generations need the older ones to continue to be self-supporting for as long as possible. So we should put such stereotypical assumptions out of our minds.” – Baroness Hale.
Performance management: The argument currently used by many employers that it would be undignified for older workers to go through any kind of management scrutiny, thereby avoiding supposed humiliation is not legitimate if the business already has performance management measures in place.
- Despite the abolition of the default retirement age, employers can currently still objectively justify retiring older workers because of their age alone as happened in the Seldon case. All businesses will now have to give careful consideration to what if any mandatory retirement rules can be justified.
Commenting on the ruling, Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK said,
“This is a wake up call to employers that age discrimination in the workplace is no longer legally acceptable and that negative ageist stereotypes are out of date.
“This judgement makes it clear it will be very difficult to justify forced retirement on grounds of age alone.
“We are delighted that the Supreme Court has recognized the important contribution of older workers and has sent this message to the UK government and business.”