An 88-year old NHS secretary has become the oldest person to win an age discrimination case.
Eileen Jolly was dismissed from her role at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading after she allegedly failed to upload details of cancer patients into a new electronic database, meaning 14 women had to wait more than a year for non-urgent surgery.
The error prompted Jolly’s colleagues to inform her boss that they were concerned her age was affecting her performance.
Employment judge Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto ruled that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of age. He judged that due to a lack of training she had been treated differently to other staff, and noted a reference by one manager to her being stuck in “old secretarial ways”.
The judge ruled that inappropriate and hurtful comments had been made about Jolly’s age and health conditions and her dignity had been violated. In short her dismissal was “tainted by discrimination”.
Discrimination due to a person’s age is illegal, as it is one of the ‘protected characteristics’ under the Equality Act 2010.
What employers can do
About a third of workers will be over the age of 50 by 2020, while nearly a quarter of the UK population will be aged 65 or over within two decades.
As this is such a large demographic, it makes good business (and legal) sense for employers to avoid inadvertently discriminating against older workers and to embrace their experience and skills. Here are some tips on how to do so.
Don’t assume that older employees aren’t be interested in learning new skills. Training should be available for anyone who wants it without the implication that it is only for certain people, and made available in a format accessible to all.
For example, interactive eLearning may be the preferred choice for younger employees. However, older employees may respond better to traditional methods, such as printed slides. Try to make provisions to provide different formats.
Promote flexible working
Research suggests women tend to be hardest hit by the lack of flexibility offered by companies for older workers, when many people over the age of 50 need to reduce their working hours to care for loved ones.
Employers can be proactive and embrace flexible working from management level downwards. This will show that working flexibly will be considered if requested.
Review your recruitment process
It can be surprisingly easy to accidentally discriminate during the recruitment process. Be careful with the words you use in job advertisements – don’t advertise for a “recent graduate” or for someone with “youthful enthusiasm”, simply state what the job requires.
Also be careful of where you advertise. For example, posting a job on social media alone could be considered discriminatory against older jobseekers, due to the demographic of social media users being generally younger.
Introduce an equality and anti-discrimination policy
Your policy should clearly state the organisation’s aim to provide a workplace where discrimination, bullying and harassment will not be tolerated and outline a commitment to adhering to the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
The policy should be communicated to all members of staff, so everyone is aware of what is and isn’t acceptable. Regular staff training will also educate both managers and employees on their roles and responsibilities in making the policy work effectively.