A recent age discrimination case was brought to tribunal. It gives us an indication of the kind of challenges older employees face in the workplace. Eileen Jolly, an eighty eight year old secretary at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, was dismissed from her post in January 2018. She was dismissed after failing to upload details into a new electronic database. The data was for cancer patients awaiting non-urgent breast reconstruction surgery. The error was partly blamed for fourteen women having to wait more than a year for surgery.
Employers should consider all factors when dismissing an employee for capability including any potential bias on account of age
Mrs Jolly insisted she had not been trained to use the patient record system. The breast surgeon Mrs Jolly worked for, Brendan Smith, described her as ‘reliable and meticulous’. He accused hospital managers of bullying. He said she was being used as a “scapegoat” for management failings.
Eileen had worked for the NHS since 1991. She is believed to be the oldest person ever to sue an employer for age discrimination after taking the hospital trust to a tribunal. She said it had been her intention to continue to work for as long as she could. Potentially until she was at least ninety years old.
She had a cardiac arrest at work in 2004 when she had to be resuscitated by a surgeon. Despite having a heart condition she had not taken a day off sick in the past ten years. Referring to her manager, she said: “I felt as though he had assumed that at my age and because of my health I was a liability and incapable of change, and had to go”.
She claimed that “unpleasant remarks” about her age and health were made in an internal report compiled by a manager. Mrs Jolly felt “humiliated” and “degraded” when she was dismissed from her post. She was particularly hurt that one colleague was quoted as saying: “It was always a concern that you could walk in and find Eileen dead on the floor.”
Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust admitted Mrs Jolly was unfairly dismissed as she was not given the chance to appeal. However, the trust insisted she was not sacked because of her age.
The Equality Act 2010 Protects Employees from Age Discrimination
The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from Age Discrimination. However, research by the Women and Equalities Committee reveals that it does not in practice, adequately prevent age discrimination. The Committee recommend the following steps in order to tackle age discrimination:
A mandatory duty to publish the age profiles of employees for organisations with over 250 employees. All jobs should be available on flexible terms as a default. The flexible terms should only be removed if an employer can demonstrate an immediate and continuing business case against doing so.
A governmental review of the decision not to implement s.14 Equality Act 2010, which prohibits combined discrimination claims based on age and another protected characteristic such as gender.
Greater availability of paid and unpaid leave for carers who are non-parents.
A greater role for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In particular the Commission creating a new action plan to tackle age discrimination in recruitment, review the public sector equality duty and identify age discrimination claims which require legal support.
Actions such as these could be particularly powerful. As with gender pay gap reporting it would bring the issue of age discrimination to the fore. It would put pressure on organisations to proactively address age discrimination within the workplace.
Donna joined Moorepay in September 2008 and has worked with a range of clients from the engineering, aerospace, manufacturing, service, leisure, education, construction and care industries. During her career Donna has worked on an extensive range of generalist HR activities including recruitment and selection, performance management, disciplinaries, grievances, absence management and flexible working requests. As a field-based HR Consultant Donna provides specialist HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy, project delivery and training services to our clients. She primarily works with HR Managers, line managers and directors to support and guide them through HR best practice and employment law.