On 25th September 2009 the High Court gave judgement in the so-called “Heyday” case, a long-running challenge to the legality of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) of 65 established by the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006.
Heyday is a charitable organisation representing the rights of the over-50s and it argued that the DRA breached EU law. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that although a default retirement age was in principle a breach of the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of age, the DRA could potentially be justified on social policy grounds.
It then fell to the High Court to apply the ECJ ruling and determine whether the UK government could establish justification. The Court ruled that although in principle a DRA could be justified, there were compelling reasons for an age higher than 65. In the Court’s view the DRA at 65 was only justified because it was established in 2006; it stated that it would have not have reached the same conclusion if the DRA was first introduced in 2009. The Court was also influenced by the government’s announcement two days before the trial commenced that it was bringing forward its review of the DRA from 2011 to 2010.
An estimated 800 claims relating to forced retirement at 65 were stayed pending the outcome of this case. Many cases are now likely to be withdrawn or settled. However, employers do now have clear notice that the DRA of 65 will almost inevitably be raised or scrapped in 2011. They now need to plan for the need to accommodate and manage an increasing proportion of older workers in the workplace.
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