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Out with the old: unfair dismissal claims and the elderly

06 October 2011

In these rather gloomy, grey times, it can be tempting to think about an office revamp – change proverbially being as good as a rest.  Sometimes repainting the walls or replacing old office furniture is not enough – the business wants a change of faces. This is where a revamp can become risky.

There is often a mistaken belief that staff changes, particularly at senior level, can be easily made when management feel the need for a ‘fresh look’.  Although in practice, few companies would approach things quite so bluntly, the reality in what is one of the longest economic downturns in modern times, is that where executives and managers are dismissed for reasons that are not sound and well-judged, their employers are at increasing risk of employment tribunal claims.

  • In better times, the ‘old office furniture’ would simply have found a new job elsewhere. Claims for unfair dismissal include compensation for loss of earnings. Plainly, in times like these when new jobs are hard to find, many employers are facing compensation payments to ex-employees of up to the current maximum of £68,400.
  • When you add the potential for a discrimination claim to be bolted on to a blatantly unfair dismissal, it’s easy to see how costly a compensation award can be.
  • There has been a notable increase in the number of claims brought by older senior employees, both for unfair dismissal and age discrimination. In many of the cases, the employers had dismissed on the pretext of ‘performance’ or ‘redundancy’ in circumstances that were plainly concocted.
  • In our experience, the most discriminated-against group in the workplace is the older male – that is men aged 45+. Now, with age discrimination claims become more common, employers need to tread very cautiously before they seek to change the ‘old office furniture’ in the way they once did.

Most employers are well aware that their freedom to ‘hire and fire’ at will is incompatible with the stern hand of UK employment law. The pragmatic majority understand that solutions in such situations are financial ones. Difficulties arise for those employers who think that they can dispense with the services of ‘the old office furniture’ and not have to pay the bill for doing so.

If you need clear and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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