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Annie Hayes

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Older workers and women first for the chop

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Both women and older workers are the prime victims of the credit crunch chop, according to The Age and Employment Network (TAEN).

The comments follow released figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which show a fall of 9,000 in the number of people aged 50 to state pension age in employment – 1,000 fewer men and 8,000 fewer women.

Chris Ball, chief executive of TAEN, said older workers and particularly older women are bearing the brunt of the lay-offs: “Even though the Age Regulations mean that using an individual’s age as the basis for selection for redundancy is likely to be unlawful, it is the way that many employers have traditionally tackled the task when they have needed to cut staff numbers.

“Employers need to remember that employment tribunals can award uncapped compensation in respect of any successful age discrimination claim. And even though we have not seen the explosion of claims that some employment lawyers and business organisations were forecasting before the legislation came into force, we do expect the numbers to rise as more redundancies occur.”

Talking exclusively to HRZone.co.uk, Leon Deakin, solicitor for Thomas Eggar LLP, said he was surprised by the ONS findings: “Due to the raft of publicity which accompanied the introduction of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 (especially surrounding topics such as ‘last in, first out’ being potentially indirectly discriminatory) combined with the potentially uncapped compensation which Chris Ball has highlighted, I anticipate that if discrimination of this sort is taking place it is being done very subtly.”

Casting some doubt over the figures, Deakin said he suspected a proportion of the numbers may be due to the fact that older workers are more likely to receive a substantial severance package if they are made redundant, which means they are much more likely to accept voluntary redundancy when offered.

In a warning to bosses, Deakin said he did, however, agree with Ball that age discrimination claims will take off: “Firstly, as was the case with disability discrimination, it often takes several years for claimants and their advisors to get to grips with new legislation and actually start bringing claims. Secondly, as the economy continues to down turn, employees who have lost their job will find it increasingly difficult to find new work, which means they may be more inclined to bring a claim to try and compensate the loss they have suffered.”

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Annie Hayes

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