As we all know the working population is getting older and employers recognise the benefit of employing older workers e.g. drawing on their work skills and life experiences.   There are currently 20 million people aged 50 and over in the UK. By 2030 this figure is expected to reach 27 million – an increase of 37 per cent.

Age discrimination is possibly the most significant risk posed to employers.   The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 came into force on 1st October 2006 and provide that it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of age in relation to:

• Recruitment and selection;
• Terms and conditions of employment;
• Access to benefits/promotion/transfer/training or any other benefits;
• The dismissal of an employee.

There was a subsequent amendment which, came into effect from the 6th April 2011 which removed the default retirement age of 65.    There is now no normal retirement age.

As someone gets older, their ability to do their job may change, which may include health and mobility problems. These changes should be taken into account to ensure that they can continue to work safely, by completing risk assessments and providing training. It is important to keep records of all agreed amendments, risk assessments, training and discussions with employees.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when thinking about how to support older workers.   However, some of the points below can be helpful when considering individual circumstances:

• Complete risk assessments routinely, not just when an employee reaches a certain age;
• Assess the activities job duties and modify workplace design if necessary;
• Make adjustments on the basis of individual and business needs;
• Consider modifying tasks to help people stay in work longer and provide appropriate retraining;
• Allow staff to change work hours and job content, if convenient for the business;
• Don’t assume that certain jobs are too demanding for older workers – base decisions on capability and objective risk – not age;
• Encourage or provide regular health checks for all staff, regardless of age;
• Persuade staff to take an interest in their health and fitness;
• Consider legislative duties, such as the Disability Discrimination Act or flexible working legislation (e.g. flexible working if caring for a spouse/partner).

If you have any queries in relation to this article please contact the Northern Ireland Advice Line on
0844 892 2786.