Employment Law Column From Fergal Dowling
Party poppers erupted, drinks fizzed and candles blazed when a colleague recently celebrated what was, in his view, something of a milestone birthday. Neither I nor indeed anyone else, sent a card which attempted to be humorous, in case it caused offence, which would have contravened age discrimination legislation. While greetings' card manufacturers might be concerned, I was pleased as I believed it highlighted an appreciation of the law and the feelings of the individual concerned.
Regrettably, not everyone seems to respect the law. The media spotlight recently focused upon an alleged serial litigant, reported to be targeting companies with claims of age discrimination in instances where their recruitment advertising had included terms such as 'school leaver' or 'graduate'.
Recruitment advertisements containing copy that can be construed as soliciting candidates from a particular age group breach the Age Regulations, part of the European Employment Directive, which came into force in October 2006.
Genuine potential recruits who are suitably qualified but feel excluded on the grounds of their age could have a case. The alleged litigant was reported to have identified organisations whose adverts contravened the legislation and, while having no intention of applying for the positions, lodged age discrimination claims against the organisations with the tribunal service. He then contacted the companies, indicating that he would drop any action in return for payment.
Such behaviour is an outrageous waste of tribunal resources. It also has the potential of tarring people bringing genuine claims with the same brush.
In addition, given that we are coming out of recession, companies must be annoyed about the distraction of preparing for the tribunal. However, there is no excuse for not ensuring that their adverts are compliant with the legislation, which is enforced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Reports went on to suggest that the litigant neither attended the tribunal nor pursued the claim if a company refused to make a payment. It is worth noting that coverage said that his claims were regularly rejected by the tribunal service.
There may be people who feel that their career and work relationships and prospects are hampered on the grounds of age. The laws on age discrimination are in place to safeguard their rights throughout the employment process, from recruitment and training to promotion, provision of benefits and retirement.
They also encouraged an environment allowing my colleague to celebrate the passing of another year in a positive fashion, rather than feeling unhappy about being the butt of age-related humour.