Is it ever ok to impose a default retirement age?
The default retirement age was abolished in 2011, meaning that employers who impose a compulsory retirement age are likely to be directly discriminating unless they can objectively justify this as a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The Supreme Court has just ruled that individual aims of the employer are not, in themselves, sufficient – there must also be reference to a public interest aim that is consistent with social policy.
This followed a tribunal which considered the compulsory retirement in a case brought against Oxford Universityby an academic forced to retire before his 70th birthday. The university introduced an employer justified retirement age policy in 2011, following the abolition of the default retirement age, to be able to bring younger and more diverse staff in.
A professor, forced to retire brought unfair dismissal and age discrimination claims, both of which were upheld. In particular, he argued that the retirement policy was discriminatory in forcing older workers to retire and produced evidence to show that it resulted in only a 2-4% increase in job opportunities for younger academics. The tribunal observed that this very small increase was minimal compared to the discriminatory effect on older workers and found that the university had not justified what was otherwise a discriminatory scheme.