The Supreme Court has ruled that an employer can continue to set the age at which staff retire as long as it can prove there is strong justification for doing so.
Last year the government removed the right of employers to forcibly retire older workers once they reached the age of 65 and age discrimination in the workplace is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Seldon v Clarkson Wright & Jakes confirms that employers may set a mandatory retirement age provided that this is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim of the business.
Mr Seldon, a partner in the law firm Clarkson Wright & Jakes, was compulsorily retired in 2006 in line with his partnership agreement, having reached the firm’s mandatory retirement age of 65. He issued Employment Tribunal proceedings in March 2007, arguing that he had been directly discriminated against on the grounds of age.
In rejecting Mr Seldon’s claim, the Employment Tribunal had identified that staff retention and recruitment planning were legitimate aims of the firm and found that a mandatory retirement age was a proportionate means of achieving these aims. This week the Supreme Court agreed.
In practical terms the decision changes little. Employers will still need to give careful consideration to any retirement age they choose to rely upon. What is clear, however, is that the courts are prepared to scrutinise whether any such retirement age is justified and proportionate.
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