Employers have been warned not to throw their older workers on the scrapheap – it could be their way out of growing skills shortages.

Sally Morris, head of employment law at Midland firm MFG Solicitors, says companies should take a hard look at their policies on whether to keep employees on beyond the traditional retirement age.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 introduced a default national retirement age of 65, but employees have the option to request to work beyond that.

There is no automatic right to be allowed to do so and the employer does not have to agree or give a reason for turning it down.
In such circumstances the dismissal is not regarded as unfair or age discriminatory. In the case of retirement, the statutory dismissal regulations do not apply.

However, there are procedures to go through and the employee can appeal.

But Ms Morris points out there are many business benefits to adopting a flexible approach to the employment and work patterns of older workers.

She said: “It is worth thinking about each request on an individual basis – taking into account the possibility of varying the employee’s hours or the duties they perform.

“The figures are stark – the working population is getting older. Employers will have more older workers to recruit and manage and fewer younger ones.”

According to the employment information agency Acas there are currently 20 million people aged 50 and over in the UK. By 2030 this figure is expected to reach 27 million – an increase of 37 per cent. People are working longer and increased life expectancy combined with shortfalls in pension provision means employees are retiring later.

“When an older worker retires you will no longer have the same conveyor belt of younger workers to replace them.”

Ms Morris says it is important for companies to look past the supposed downside to keeping on workers past 65 and consider the potential advantages.

“Many people assume that older people are more likely to be off sick. In fact, research has shown that the opposite is the case.

“It is suggested older workers can not adapt, but a report by Age Concern found they were able to master new skills as well as younger counterparts.

“You may be concerned that by working beyond 65 employees will struggle to maintain the same standards of performance or output.

In most cases this worry will be unfounded but where there is a problem discuss the options with the employee.

“Indeed, older workers will have advantages over younger ones in some respects. For example they will have more experience and will often be able to apply the theory of the text book more easily to work situations.

“And older workers can make good mentors for junior colleagues or use their experience working on special projects.

“Be positive about age and value the contribution every individual can make. Chucking out all that expertise and experience for no good reason is a terrible waste.”

Companies are required to notify an employee in writing of their right to request to go on working beyond their retirement date – at least six months in advance but no more than 12 months before the intended date.

If the employee requests in writing not to be retired this must be considered ahead of their due departure. Failure to do so will make the dismissal automatically unfair.

Employers must meet the employee to discuss their request within a reasonable period of receiving it and inform them in writing of the decision as soon as is reasonably practicable.