First published: 8th June 2023
Last updated: 8th June 2023
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) recently published its 2022 Annual Report which revealed a 176% increase in age-related discrimination claims compared to 2021. Age-related discrimination claims increased from 186 in 2021 to 514 in 2022.
Although not specifically identified in the figures, we can take it that many of these age-related discrimination claims arise when employers seek to compulsorily retire senior employees.
The figures suggest that older employees are prepared to fight their corner if their employers deny a request to continue working beyond a mandatory retirement age.
Fundamentals of dealing with requests to continue working
The WRC annual report indicates that employers are not equipped to deal with requests for longer working effectively. With an ageing workforce and increases in the age at which the State pension can be drawn, requests for longer working are going to become more common and employers need to ensure they’re well prepared to manage these requests from older employees.
It’s vital therefore for business owners to know how to handle a request to continue working past a mandatory retirement age. As there is no employment law establishing a mandatory retirement age in Ireland, (some public servants like the Gardaí and members of the defence forces are subject to a statutory retirement age) many businesses include a retirement age in the contract of employment or their company handbook.
If there is nothing in writing, a retirement age may be identifiable through custom and practice.
Objective justification for a mandatory retirement age
Employers may enforce a mandatory retirement age under Irish employment law subject to being able to demonstrate that the policy is objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate business aim.
In addition, any mandatory retirement age chosen by employers must be an appropriate and necessary means of achieving that legitimate aim.
How to minimise the risk of age discrimination claims
So, what approach should employers take if they receive requests to continue working from an employee approaching a mandatory retirement age?
It’s best to have a policy and procedure in place for handling requests to continue working beyond a mandatory retirement age. This process could include a written request from the employee, a meeting with the employer followed by a decision that should be promptly communicated to the employee alongside the reasons for the decision.
Should the employee’s request be refused, a thorough explanation will help the employee to understand why the request has not been granted and give the employee confidence that his/her case has been given serious consideration and that there are good grounds for refusing the request.
It may be possible to grant a request for longer working by offering a fixed-term contract – but it must be appropriate and necessary, and objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim.
Employers should also provide the employee with a right to appeal the decision. This appeal could be handled through the established grievance procedures.
Expert HR assistance with mandatory retirement ages in Ireland
As an employer, you have a range of legal obligations under employment equality law in Ireland.
Your mandatory retirement policies, procedures and any associated training should all comply with the relevant employment equality laws and Code of Practice to minimise the risk of age discrimination claims.
For expert HR help with any queries on this technical area of employment law, call us today on 01 886 0350 or leave your details here and we’ll call you back.