It's out with the old...

October 6, 2006

Job ads that imply age criteria could breach labour rules, says Phil Baty

Looking for a new job? Are you lively, dynamic, vibrant and ambitious? Well, do not expect to win a new post by highlighting any of these attributes on your CV because from this week, universities could be deemed to be breaking the law if they use such descriptions in their job criteria.

According to education law specialists Eversheds, universities and other employers could be accused of discriminating against older workers if they use such adjectives as part of job descriptions or job criteria.

Words such as "senior", "experienced" and "mature" must be used with caution to avoid discriminating against young workers.

Diane Gilhooley, education partner at Eversheds that represents dozens of universities, said: "Job advertisements and descriptions should be age-neutral. If age restrictions are specified or implied in selection criteria, job descriptions or person specifications, these should be removed."

She warned: "Beware of using words associated with youth, such as 'lively' and 'ambitious'."

She said that the job title of "senior lecturer" should be safe from attack, but any criteria for the job that specify minimum length of experience would fall foul of the law. "It is the quality and relevance of experience that is important," Ms Gilhooley said.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (2006), which ban discrimination on the grounds of age, came into effect on October 1. Under the regulations, employers can be taken to tribunal and there is no cap on compensation payments.

The University and College Union said that potentially one of the biggest implications of the new regulations in higher education was the right of staff to ask to work beyond their normal retirement age. Although the rules place no obligation on employers to allow any staff member to work beyond 65, employers must be seen to properly consider such requests and make a business case for rejecting them.

The UCU said that in higher education, 36 per cent of managers and 31 per cent of "academic professionals" - almost 50,000 staff - were aged 50 or over, so such claims are likely to be high in the sector.

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights at the UCU, said:

"Institutions need to make sure they are giving staff a choice on this issue and not vetoing applications."

Elspeth MacArthur, chairwoman of the Universities Personnel Association, said: "Employers must give serious consideration to requests to work beyond 65. But we do not yet know what reasons will be deemed acceptable when saying 'yes' or 'no' to such requests."


How anti-age discrimination law could affect the language of recruitment

Definitely dodgy Terms such as "younger", "young", "older", "at least ten years' experience"

Extreme caution "Energetic", "dynamic", "enthusiastic", "flexible", "ambitious", "vitality"

Health warning "In touch with latest thinking", "flexible enough to fit in with our fast-moving marketplace", "not afraid of challenging the status quo"

Problematic "Mature", "reflective"

And if that wasn't enough... The Government also warns of "hidden messages" in, for example, promotional literature, which may include images of predominantly young people.

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