The dangers of forcing an employee to retire

An employment tribunal has ruled that a former professor at Oxford University who was forced to retire at 69 was unfairly dismissed.

Professor Ewart had worked at the university for 38 years, holding the position of Head of Atomic and Laser Physics. However, in September 2017 his contract was not renewed in accordance with Oxford University’s policy that required staff in senior roles to retire the September prior to turning 69.

Discrimination because of age is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.  “Forced” retirement will amount to discrimination because of age unless the employer can justify it as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Oxford University first introduced the Employer Justified Retirement Age (EJRA) policy in 201.  They argued that the policy was justified as an attempt to attract younger and more diverse staff.

Professor Ewart was able to provide statistical evidence that showed showing the policy could only help create a small number of vacancies.

The employment tribunal found that the university had failed to justify its policy.

He now hopes to be reinstated as a senior lecturer, while also putting pressure on the university to reconsider their implementation of the EJRA policy.

The tribunal stated in its ruling, “There can hardly be a greater discriminatory effect in the employment field than being dismissed simply because you hold a particular protected characteristic.

“If a heavily discriminatory measure results in the creation of only two to four per cent more vacancies than would otherwise arise, we do not see how that can be proportionate.”

David Scott, Senior Associate Solicitor at Hethertons, said: “This case demonstrates that employers need to be cautious before enforcing a blanket retirement age on their employees.  They need to be sure that they can demonstrate the aim they want to achieve is a legitimate one and also that the mechanism used to achieve it are proportionate when comparing the aim and the effect on the individual.

David added, “Businesses should keep any such policy under regular review to ensure that their justification remains valid at all times.”

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