Employment Law Explained

Things employers shouldn't ask …

Most people know that employers these days shouldn’t in job interviews ask women of child-bearing age when they intend to start a family.  Nor should they now ask potential employees how old they are.  The reason in both cases is that (a) it is usually going to be none of the employer’s business but, also, (b) it runs the risk of the applicant/employee later stating that the failure to appoint them was on discriminatory grounds. A report on the Personnel Today website from a few days ago questioned the wisdom of Cherwell District Council in asking employees to state whether they intended to retire in the next two or three years.  The Council is currently asking staff to work fewer hours or to work without pay to avoid the need for redundancies.  However, its request to staff to detail their plans and aspirations over the next two to three years could lead to them facing an age discrimination claim, suggests the article, if an employee could show that they were selected for redundancy because of their stated plan to seek retirement.  The same risk would apply if a woman stated she intended to start a family and was subsequently place “at risk”. 

The central difficulty in any such case is proving that the employer selected the employee for redundancy on discriminatory grounds.  I recently advised a client who was made redundant having advised his employer some months earlier that he intended to emigrate in a few years’ time.  He suspected that the employer therefore saw him as someone who wouldn’t be with the business long term and was this less likely to be as upset about having his employment terminated compared with someone who was, apparently, fully committed.  The employer, of course, denied that factor had played any part in their decision and the matter settled without Employment Tribunal proceedings.

Employers may see asking employees about their future plans as being a much easier way to select candidates for redundancy, but it is fraught with danger and may well embroil the employer in unwanted litigation if it took any action of any sort against the employee. Discrimination claims are not subject to the maximum cap on compensation that applies in unfair dismissal claims (and currently stands at £66,200). An employee who considers that their selection for redundancy was unfair can bring a claim for unfair dismissal (provided they have at least 12 months continuous employment experience of course) but that claim will be limited by the cap: not so with a claim based on discrimination as the reason for selection. Note to employers: just don’t do it.

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