Tribunal win 'shows dangers of not respecting retirement wishes'

Company accountant receives £182,000 for age discrimination after being pushed out of job

The default (mandatory) retirement age was abolished in the UK on 1st October 2011. Since this date it has been unlawful to impose fixed ages at which employees have to retre. (The Age Discrimination Regulations of 2006 outlawed all unjustifiable age discrimination except  retirement at or above the age of 65 - henceforth known as the “default retirement age.”) 

Hence, it is well known that having a fixed age at which all employees have to retire is no longer tenable, but does this mean that an attempt to force an individual employee to retire at a given age is actionable? Many lawyers and employer advisers have been guilty of oversimplifying. The law against age discrimination allows employers plenty of wiggle room around the concept of “justification.” Numerous instances have been been drawn to TAEN’s attention of employers apparently “leaning” on certain employees in an attempt to get them to retire.

Now some legal experts are warning that trying to force employees to retire against their will could lead to hefty payouts, after a former company accountant won £182,000 for age discrimination.

John Peters, now 69 years old, successfully argued in a Liverpool tribunal that his former employer, Rock Oil, had unfairly dismissed and discriminated against him in a bid to get him to retire.

Peters won his case last November.  His £182,000 compensation – received last week - covered loss of earnings and benefits, injury to feelings from age discrimination, and an extra payment for Rock Oil’s failure to follow the Acas Code of Practice.

The Warrington-based lubricant company claimed it finally dismissed Peters, who was aged 67 at the time, on conduct issues. However, Peters, who had worked for the company for 16 years, said that his former employer pushed him out because they wanted him to retire at 65 and had even gone as far as to recruit his replacement in anticipation of this.

After Peters went on a lengthy period of sick leave for work-related stress following a particularly hostile meeting with the company’s management, the tribunal was told the business then failed to follow the recommendations of two medical reports designed to help the accountant return to work.

The tribunal also heard the company lied to Peters about his bonus, told him to return his company car while he was on medical leave and refused to provide him with the information he needed to refute the allegations made against him.

“When the claimant indicated that he did not intend to retire, the management trumped up charges against him in what can only be described as a threatening manner,” the judgment read.

The tribunal also found that Rock Oil singled out the accountant for investigation and determined that the allegations “would not have been brought against a hypothetical company accountant who had not reached retirement age”.

Karen Jackson, managing director at discrimination specialist law firm didlaw, told People Management magazine, reporting the case “This demonstrates what happens when a dismissal is disguised as something else. It’s a very expensive mistake to make when an employer could be responsible for loss of all future earnings if the person cannot find another job, which is unlikely past a certain age.

“Having an open dialogue about retirement plans and offering older staff alternatives to retirement is a much better way to behave.”

Adrian Crawford, employment partner at Kingsley Napley, added: “For some time now there has been no exemption from age discrimination claims for compulsory retirements so employers have to deal with these cases on an individual basis. If they do not have genuine reasons for dismissal – for example, capability, conduct or redundancy – a substantial award of compensation could be made.”