Landmark Supreme Court ruling on forced retirement

The UK Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal from an older worker who was forced to retire, in a landmark ruling that may establish new ground rules for employer powers regarding the treatment of older employees.

Leslie Seldon argued that his law firm employer's decision to make him retire shortly after his 65 birthday was effectively age discrimination.

Seldon, who had his request to continue working refused, took his case to an employment tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, before it was unanimously dismissed.

Although the case has been dismissed, it has now been referred back to the employment tribunal who must decide if 65 was an appropriate age for Seldon to be forced to go. Some commentators warned that while the ruling had provided some clarity for employers, it remained uncertain what age was deemed acceptable to retire somebody.

The firm involved in the ruling argued that forcing older workers to retire was acceptable because it ensured younger workers could climb up the career ladder, allowed greater planning of when future vacancies would arise and avoided the need to dismiss workers for poor work performance.

The UK default retirement age was abolished in October 2011, stopping employers compulsorily retiring workers once they reached the age of 65. It is the first time that the defence of 'public interest' has been applied to an age discrimination case, which outlined justification for bringing back mandatory retirement rules.

The judgement, as reported by the BBC, said: "All businesses will now have to give careful consideration to what, if any, mandatory retirement rules can be justified in their particular business."

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK which took Seldon's case to the Supreme Court, believed it was still a victory for older workers which reinforced that 'ageist stereotypes were out of date.'

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) insisted that employers still had a lot to gain from recruiting and retaining an ageing workforce.

Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the CIPD, said: "Dismissing people because of their age, rather than their performance and capability, is not only potentially unfairly discriminatory, but counter-productive too. It robs employers and the economy of the talent and skills we need to thrive in the modern, competitive world."

"In our view, good succession planning is about ensuring that there are employees with the right talent, skills and capabilities to sustain business performance. It is not about throwing well-performing older workers out on their ear simply because there are ambitious younger workers snapping at their heels."