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Apparently, it is becoming increasingly common for employees to delay their retirement plans with the cost-of-living crisis being so prevalent.  Research suggests up to 2.5 million older employees are looking to delay.  How can a business deal with this?  Read on to find out more from our experts.

Of the 2.5 million older employees who plan to delay their retirement, 1.7 million of them expect they may need to work indefinitely to substitute their income, either on a part-time or full-time basis.

The remaining 800,000 people surveyed expect to delay their retirement by another three years, if not longer.

Whilst these decisions are understandable, as a business you still need to know what to plan for and this can push you into the tricky ground of age discrimination if you were to directly ask this.

This would apply if you were to:

  • Make jokes about retirement or somebody being an older employee
  • Put pressure on an employee to retire
  • Suggest that retirement is the best option
  • Force an employee to retire, or
  • Hold the employee to a previously planned retirement date, whether they want to or not.

Having the conversation

How are you able to understand retirement plans without putting yourself at risk of a claim? The best way to do this is to phrase it differently.

“What are your plans over the next five years?” is a perfectly reasonable question to ask, that you would ask of other employees irrespective of their age.

In interviews, it is fairly common to ask this question, so performance reviews and general business discussions are no exception to this.  If you don’t want to ask about five-year plans, you could vary this and ask about a one-year, medium-term or long-term plan (for example).  The key thing is to ask the same question that would apply to all.

Do I need a policy?

Not necessarily, ask yourself, what will I get from having a policy?  Sometimes it’s easy to think as a business there should be a policy for everything, but this also runs the risk of you having so many policies to comply with that employees never bother to read them.

It is much better to treat all employees in exactly the same way and avoid making retirement a “label” rather, ask the same questions of everyone as part of performance reviews and future plans, don’t single out one single employee because of their age.  

There is nothing stopping you having the discussion if the employee raises it with you, such as during an informal discussion.  But let them instigate it in the first place.

Ewart v University of Oxford

An Employment Tribunal found that the University of Oxford’s policy of mandatory retirement at 68 years old could not be justified.

Professor Ewart worked as an associate professor in the department of atomic and laser physics at the University of Oxford.  His performance was not under question.

The University operated an Employer Justified Retirement Age policy. This required all its academics and researchers to retire on 30 September (the end of the academic year) preceding their 68th birthday unless they were able to make a successful application for an extension.

Professor Ewart was granted a two-year extension, and then the policy changed, which made extensions more restrictive.

As a result, Professor Ewart made a second application seeking to extend his position until 2020, and he was unsuccessful despite having compelling reasons.  He appealed to his employer, but it was rejected, so he was forced to retire in September 2017.

Because the university could not show that this was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, they found in favour of Professor Ewart and upheld his claim of direct age discrimination.

Here are some really useful links for you to support older employees in the workplace:

Here are some really useful links for you to support older employees in the workplace:

Here are some really useful links for you to support older employees in the workplace:

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