With more and more people opting to stay at work rather than retire at what would previously have been seen as traditional retirement ages, the news this week that an 88 year old woman has become the oldest person in the UK to win an age discrimination case is a timely reminder of the need to take this ground of discrimination as seriously as we would take other grounds.
Mrs Jolly, a medical secretary, was dismissed by her employer, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust when she was 86. The dismissal was on the grounds of capability. However, the finding of the tribunal was that the employer’s treatment of her was discriminatory on the grounds of both age and disability – she suffered from arthritis and a heart condition.
Some of the actions of the employer that contributed to the finding of age discrimination were as follows:
- She was described as being stuck in “old secretarial ways”.
- She was not afforded the same opportunity for training. The perception was that because of her age she was not going to be helped by training.
- Comments made by other members of staff were unfairly considered in the capability process. This included comments about her “frailty” and inability to walk the length of the building.
The judge found that any such comments made about a younger member of staff would not have been allowed to pass.
If you’re interested, you can read the judgment here
What this judgement shows is that it is important to be alive to the possibility of age discrimination coming in on the basis of stereotyping. It should not be assumed, for example, that an older employee will not be interested in training. Such opportunities should genuinely be available to all.
It is also important to remember that the same can happen with younger employees. An example would be of criticism leveled at a young worker which would not be made in the same manner to an older employee.
The moral of the story is that all employees are to be treated with respect regardless of age, and the wise employer will ensure that practices and procedures reflect this.