Ageism is a pervasive problem in the workplace and age discrimination cases against employers will probably increase as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
That is according to employment law expert and solicitor, Richard Grogan who was commenting after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordered that an oil company pay a 67-year-old client of Mr Grogan’s €25,000 for age discrimination.
The man worked as an operations manager (OM) for the oil company and was employed by the firm for 37 years when he was ‘retired’ on June 17 last on his 67th birthday against his wishes.
The company wrote to the OM in May 2019 weeks ahead of ‘retiring’ him to tell him:
Unfortunately retirement is not a decision about you, or anyone else for personal reasons, rather it is a decision taken to protect the health and safety of staff to preserve personal and professional loyalty and also to assist with succession planning providing promotion opportunities and intergenerational fairness.
However, WRC Adjudication Officer, Eugene Hanly found that the OM was discriminated against on the grounds of age when his employment was terminated under the Employment Equality Acts.
The OM had been employed on a permanent employment contract and then he was placed on two fixed-term yearly contracts to bring him to the age of 67.
The OM stated that he was not advised of the implications of being on a fixed-term contract and was never told of what he was giving away by accepting a fixed-term contract.
Mr Grogan told the WRC hearing that his client was then told to go and there was no objective justification or economic grounds given for ending this employment.
Mr Grogan stated that his client was not given the right to challenge the termination of his employment.
The OM was offered some staff training jobs on a consultancy basis but this was not acceptable, so his employment terminated on June 17th 2019
The company had a mandatory retirement age of 65 for its workforce.
In his findings, Mr Hanly found that the arguments concerning personnel retiring at the 65 concerning health and safety of staff’ intergenerational fairness and succession planning were not clearly advanced to the OM at the time of terminating the man’s employment.
Commenting on the outcome, Mr Grogan stated: “Unfortunately ageism in workplaces is a persistent and prevalent problem. Few of these cases ever get to a hearing.
He stated: “It is probable that due Covid 19 there will be even greater pressure on older workers to leave and I would anticipate a greater number of these cases will arise in the future. Unfortunately ageism and not always conscious bias is an ever-present pervasive element in some workplaces.”