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Mandatory retirement policies judged acceptable – in some cases

27 April 2012

The Supreme Court’s judgment in Seldon v Clarkson Wright and Jakes concerns the scope for justifying a mandatory retirement age for partners. Unless justified, mandatory retirement would be direct discrimination because of age. Although Mr Seldon’s appeal was dismissed, this doesn’t give employers the green light to enforce retirement; employers still have to ensure that such a policy is ‘proportionate’. Mr Seldon’s case has been remitted to the Employment Tribunal to decide this.

The Court signalled that ‘succession planning’ (i.e. sharing employment opportunities fairly between generations) and limiting the need to expel partners by way of performance management were both legitimate aims which could justify mandatory retirement. Both of these aims have been accepted by the European Court as consistent with Council Directive 2000/78/EC.

The judgment balances the business needs against employee rights – precisely the intention of the Directive; but it does little to help employers know whether they can safely impose retirement ages.

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