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Practice dilemma: Receptionist’s retirement

Your long-standing receptionist is in her 60’s and has struggled to keep up with modern developments at your practice. Can you force her to retire? Our legal expert advises.

As the law currently stands, there is a default retirement age of 65 and provided a very specific procedure is followed (which takes six to 12 months to run through), the termination of your receptionist’s employment for reason of retirement at age 65 will neither be unfair nor discriminatory on grounds of age.

Under the procedure, your receptionist has the right to request working beyond the age of 65 which should be considered if raised, but there is no obligation to agree to the request, nor to give reasons if it is refused.

Retiring your receptionist under the age of 65 is potentially both unfair and discriminatory and you will need to be able to show that the setting of the particular retirement age is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim for the practice.

However, the Government has recently announced that the default retirement will be phased out. From 1 October 2011, you will not be able to rely on the default age of 65 to justify a dismissal for compulsory retirement and no new notices of intended retirement should be issued after 6 April 2011.

That is not to say that retirement dismissals will be unlawful after October 2011, but the dismissal must be objectively justified as being a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Transitional arrangements will apply to retirements that have been notified before 6 April 2011 to take effect before 1 October 2011 although retirements notified before 6 April 2011, but intended to take effect after 1 October 2011, will not be valid unless they can be objectively justified.

Therefore depending on when your receptionist will turn 65, you may be able to terminate her employment fairly for retirement. However, if not, you will need to objectively justify her dismissal for retirement, or rely on one of the other potentially fair grounds for dismissal if you want to bring the relationship to an end to avoid the dismissal being unfair or discriminatory.

If a complaint of discrimination is upheld by a tribunal then an award of compensation is potentially unlimited. It is usual for an award up to £30,000 to be made for injury to feelings, with additional compensation for any actual financial losses.

Alison Graham is a healthcare employment lawyer at Veale Wasbrough Vizards

Alison Graham is a healthcare employment lawyer at Veale Wasbrough Vizards