Businesses are facing a major challenge in preparing for new regulations to outlaw age discrimination coming into force on October 1, according to law firm Eversheds.
Recent research conducted by the law firm, in conjunction with Cranfield School of Management, revealed that only one in five companies had started to prepare for the new laws.
Damian Kelly, an employment law partner based in Birmingham, said: "Now that the final regulations are here, those businesses that haven't taken action yet have got a significant mountain to climb.
"Getting ready in time is not going to be plain sailing. Every aspect of the working cycles needs to be scrutinised for discriminatory practices, from recruitment, retention, training and reward, right through to retirement.
"On a positive note, employers should be encouraged by the changes that have been made in the final regulations, particularly in the area of retirement age. Under the original proposals employers who allowed employees to stay at work beyond the age of 65 ran real risks of unfair dismissal claims when they eventually did retire them.
"In other words the draft regulations created an incentive not to let people work longer -a situation completely at odds with the aims of the legislation. The final regulations make it clear that as long as the retirement process is followed correctly it can take place at any stage from the age of 65."
He noted that a wide range of employers' enhanced redundancy payments for older workers would also be lawful.
His comments were emphasised by a Government survey which showed that many businesses will have to mend their ways to avoid falling foul of the law.
The snapshot of 2,000 employers showed that half the companies questioned were in breach with their current recruitment procedures and many flouted anti-ageism rules when it came to retirement, training and redundancy.
While only six per cent of companies used age ranges in recruitment adverts, nearly half gave recruiters age guidelines and half had a maximum recruitment age, the survey found. All would be unlawful come October.
Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said the regulations would let people work beyond 65 and prevent companies from introducing compulsory retirement ages below that age.
"Ageism will affect more people, at some stage in their lives, than any other form of discrimination, but until now the law of the land has allowed it to continue," Mr Johnson said.
A key element of the legislation is that companies will now have to give employees at least six months' notice of their intended retirement date.
Employment lawyer Mark Hunt of solicitors Reed Smith said it was one of the most far-reaching pieces of workplace legislation since sex discrimination laws 30 years ago.