A guide to the anti-discrimination laws

Disability Discrimination Act

It is thought that somewhere between 15% and 25% of the UK's population either have some form of disability or play a part in looking after someone who is disabled.

The purpose of the Disability Discrimination Act [DDA] is to prevent people, whether they are employees or customers, suffering disadvantages as a result of their disability.

In following the regulations set down by the DDA, businesses can benefit from the skills that disabled people bring to their work and the custom they bring to shops and other venues.

Although the DDA was introduced in 1995, the legislation itself has come into force in three separate phases. The first phase was in 1996 when it became illegal to use their disability as a reason for treating a disabled person unfairly or unfavourably.

The second, which became law in 1999, required that businesses make appropriate arrangements for disabled employees. Typically, this involved providing extra support and installing equipment to help disabled members of staff. Businesses also had to re-assess the way in which they supplied their services to customers, taking into account those with disabilities.

The third phase takes effect from October 2004. This will oblige businesses, where necessary, to make physical alterations to their premises in order to provide disabled people with access. Until now smaller companies - those of fewer than 15 employees - have been exempt from the regulations. In October 2004, however, the Act will apply to smaller companies as well.

What follows is an outline of the terms and requirements of the disability legislation, highlighting those additions that are to be introduced in October 2004.

Definition of disability

Under the terms of the DDA, a person is regarded as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, long-term and adverse effect on their ability to carry out everyday activities and actions.

The sort of impairment covered by the act includes, among others, people who have limited mobility, hearing and visual difficulties, and learning disabilities.

To qualify as 'substantial', the impairment must be of an order greater than the usual differences in abilities and aptitudes that separate people.

The disability should be a permanent condition, or certainly one that is likely to affect a person for at least a year.

Stopping discrimination

The Act says that it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds that they are disabled.

This means that an employer must not treat a disabled employee less fairly or favourably than other workers. A person's disability must not be used as a reason for failing to offer them a job interview or employing, training or promoting them.

The DDA also places certain other obligations on an employer. They have a responsibility to make such adjustments to the work environment that are reasonable and that enable a disabled employee to work there. A good example would be supplying somebody who has hearing difficulties with a telephone amplifier.

Employers who are found to have discriminated on grounds of disability by a tribunal could face a substantial claim for compensation. Employees may bring a case to tribunal whatever their length of service or age, and may do so while still working for the employer.

Customers

Business policies

Most firms have a series of practices and policies that determine or affect the way in which they run and regulate their business.

These practices and policies can be precise and formal or they can have come about through custom or habit.

In cases where these practices and policies hinder or prevent a disabled person from using a business or its services or goods, the business must alter its practices. The practices or policies don't necessarily have to be dropped, although this is an option. They can be modified, or exceptions can be made to them, in order to meet the needs of disabled people.

An obvious example is amending a blanket ban on admitting pets to the premises of a shop so that blind customers may enter in the company of a guide dog.

Aids and services

An aid is a piece of equipment or technology that helps a disabled person have access to a business and its premises. A service involves providing a disabled person with extra practical help or assistance so that they use a business' goods or service.

An example of an aid might be a portable ramp for those who experience difficulties with their mobility or an induction loop for deaf people. An example of a service might be making goods more easily accessible to a customer who is in a wheelchair or training a member of staff to communicate in sign language.

The DDA requires that a business take "reasonable steps" to provide customers with additional aids and services. The definition of reasonable depends on the size of the business, the resources of the business, and the cost to the business of introducing the aids or services.

October 2004

Before October 2004, businesses were not required to make any permanent changes to their premises in order to include any extra aids or to provide extra services for disabled people. After October 2004, businesses might be required to make those changes permanent. A good example is replacing a temporary wheelchair ramp with a fixed one. In other words, businesses might have to make physical alterations to their premises.

Physical barriers

One of the most common problems faced by disabled people who use shops and business premises are the physical obstacles they find in their way.

These physical barriers are usually determined by the design, layout or construction of the building. But they are not limited to the interior of a building; they can occur in the approach to, entrance to and exit from the premises. Physical barriers can consist of fixtures, fittings, equipment or machinery or any other feature in a building. Examples of the physical features that might create a barrier to disabled people include steps, stairwells, kerbing, floors, gates, toilets, washrooms and lighting.

In order to deal with such barriers, a business has four solutions available to it under the DDA.

It can remove the feature altogether. It can alter it so that it ceases to be a problem (say, adding a ramp to external steps or adjusting counter heights). It can find a way of giving disabled people a means of avoiding the feature (say, changing or re-arranging the internal layout of a building). Or it can offer disabled people another way of accessing the goods or services provided by the business (say, offering a home delivery service or installing call bells on counters).

October 2004

Before October 2004, businesses were only required to offer disabled people another way of having access to its goods or services. After October 2004, businesses will have to remove or alter the physical feature that is posing a barrier or give disabled people the means to avoid it. In other words, they must explore all four of the options under the Act and adopt one of them as a solution.

In practical terms, some of the changes could involve setting aside some specially widened parking spaces in the car park for wheelchair users; attaching hand rails at the side of short flights of steps; or adding visual and graphic features to signage.

Employees

Accommodating disabled employees

Employers might have to make alterations to the workplace so that it allows disabled employees better and easier access. Even if a feature only disadvantages disabled people compared to other employees - -rather than imposing a physical barrier - the employer must change it so that its effect is either subdued or removed altogether.

The type of physical alteration could mean widening doors for wheelchair access, putting in ramps, lowering light switches and door handles, and installing audio-visual fire alarms.

Consideration also has to be given to how and where disabled employees work. Wheelchair users should have ground floor workstations. And specially modified equipment should be supplied to staff members with specific disabilities (say, telephone amplifiers for those with hearing impairments).

The only changes that employers must implement are those that actually help disabled employees. There are certain factors an employer must weigh before deciding whether to make an alteration. These include the likely benefit to disabled people; how much the change will cost; the financial resources of the business; its ability to turn to external sources of funding in order to meet the costs; if the alterations have already been made elsewhere to help other disabled employees; and the level of co-operation with the change that the disabled employee is prepared to offer.

The government has set up some programmes that can help employers with the cost of making the changes, provided they are reasonable, needed to ensure that the workplace is accessible to and usable by disabled employees.

The key word is 'reasonable'. If the cost of making any alterations would effectively put a firm out of business, then an access audit would acknowledge the fact and suggest that the business meet the requirements of the DDA in a way that it could afford. Many compliance changes can indeed be carried out at relatively low cost. Businesses will not be required to make any changes that are not 'reasonable' or that are beyond its resources.

For a good practice guide on employing disabled staff members, an employer can visit the Disability Rights Commission web site at www.drc-gb.org

Property

Most properties constructed after 1985 comply with what are known as modern building requirements. This means that the design and construction of the property or premises will already accommodate the needs of disabled people.

Provided that the property either complies with modern building requirements as they apply to disabled people, or was built after October 1994, then no additional changes will have to be made for ten years. A building that was built in 1997, for example, will need no extra adjustments until at least 2007.

However, properties built before 1985 may need alterations if disabled people are to have access to it.

It is important to remember that a business should find out if any proposed changes need planning permission.

Those businesses that rent their premises must normally ask for their landlord's permission if they plan to make any alterations. If a business needs to alter the premises in order to make them accessible to disabled employees or customers, they must request the landlord's permission even if the lease forbids any alterations. Once permission has been asked for, the business should make the changes irrespective of whether the landlord has given their consent or not, so long as those changes are needed to make the property accessible to disabled people.

The request for consent to the changes needs to be made in writing, and should include all the plans and specifications. The landlord then has 42 days in which to reply. Although the landlord is not allowed to deny consent, they can insist that certain conditions be observed before any work is carried out. These include getting any necessary planning permission, keeping to the plans, giving the landlord access to the ongoing work, and meeting any reasonable costs the landlord might have faced in giving their consent.

Should landlord not give their permission by the end of the 42 days, the business will then need to refer the matter to the county court.

Access audits

Some businesses choose to have an access audit carried out on their behalf. An access audit can help a business decide what, if any, changes or additions it needs to make to its building, premises or equipment in order to comply with the DDA.

The audit will examine a building and its facilities in the light of the requirements of the DDA, and will judge how easy it is for disabled people to use. It will then make recommendations on the alterations that need to be implemented if the building is to provide disabled people with access and comply with the DDA. The audit will also take into account the financial resources and size of the business. Any subsequent recommendations will, therefore, be reasonable and responsive to the ability of the business to meet the cost of the changes.

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Employment equality Regulations 2003

Two new sets of employment rules - the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 - were introduced respectively on 1 and 2 December 2003.

Both sets of rules represent an important addition to employment law. Essentially, they make it unlawful for employees, agency or other workers to be discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation or their religion or religious beliefs.

They should be seen in the context of other sex and race discrimination laws which they broaden. This guide offers a brief outline of the legislation and summarises its relevance to employers.

Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003

The regulations apply to all employees as well as those in vocational training. The areas covered include recruitment, the setting of terms and conditions for an employee, promotions, transfers, dismissals and training.

There are five specific activities that the Regulations make unlawful.

It is unlawful to discriminate directly against someone because of their sexual orientation. This means employees must not be subject to less favourable treatment than others on the grounds of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

It is unlawful to discriminate indirectly against someone because of their sexual orientation. This means employers must not apply a criterion, provision or practice that places employees of a particular sexual orientation at a disadvantage, except in those cases where it can be objectively justified.

It is unlawful to subject someone to harassment because of their sexual orientation. Harassment is defined by the regulations as unwanted conduct that violates a person's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

It is unlawful to victimise someone because of an action they have taken or plan to take in connection with the regulations, such as making a formal complaint about sexual discrimination or offering evidence in a tribunal case that involves a complaint.

And it is unlawful to discriminate against someone, in specific circumstances, after they cease to be an employee because of their sexual orientation.

The regulations regard sexual orientation as being towards people of the same sex (gay men and lesbians), of the opposite sex (heterosexuals) and of the same and the opposite sex (bisexuals).

Since the rules are applied equally to actual and perceived sexual orientation, they are also designed to protect people who are discriminated against on the assumption that they are of a particular sexual orientation. Similarly, the regulations can be applied in those cases where discrimination occurs on the basis of the sexual orientation of the people, like friends and family, with whom an individual associates.

Direct discrimination

An employer cannot do any of the following on the grounds of a person's sexual orientation. They cannot choose not to employ them; dismiss them; refuse them training; refuse to promote them; impose adverse employment terms and conditions on them; or refuse them benefits that are available to others who are of a different sexual orientation (although benefits that relate to married status are exempt here).

It is possible to justify direct discrimination but this can only happen in those cases where a genuine occupational requirement can be proven.

Indirect discrimination

A company or organisation is not allowed to have in place any recruitment strategies, internal practices, policies, benefits or rules that work to the disadvantage of people of a specific sexual orientation. This holds true even if all employees are subject to them and even if the effect of the policies or rules is unintentional.

Unlike direct discrimination, indirect discrimination will not be deemed unlawful if an employer can show that it is justified. This means an employer must demonstrate that there is a genuine business purpose and that the policy or practice is the only way of achieving that business aim.

Harassment

This is defined as any behaviour or actions that cause offence, fear or distress. On the one hand, this could be obvious and planned, such as bullying, or on the other insidious or unintended. The term covers teasing and name-calling and other sorts of behaviour that, although not violent, are nonetheless upsetting. Harassment does not have to be aimed at a particular person but could be the consequence of a wider culture that tolerates the telling of homophobic jokes.

The regulations regard heterosexual people as being as susceptible to harassment as gay men, lesbians and bisexuals.

If harassment occurs in the workplace, or somewhere associated with work like work-related social event, then a company or organisation could be held responsible for the behaviour of its staff. Indeed, the employer could be liable to pay compensation to the person who experiences the harassment if they are unable to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to stop harassment occurring.

Any employer who has to examine a complaint of harassment by an employee should first assess the nature and circumstances of the complaint. Once the evidence has been collated, the employer will need to consider whether the events or actions could reasonably have caused offence.

Victimisation

Victimisation occurs when a person is subjected to unfair treatment as a result of planning to make or actually making a complaint about discrimination. A person will also be deemed to have suffered victimisation if they are treated unfairly for giving evidence that is related to a complaint about discrimination or harassment. Employers that do not take measures to stop this happening could be obliged to pay compensation, as could those individuals who carry out the victimisation.

Post-employment direct discrimination

Discrimination can still take place after a particular employee has left their place of work. Written or verbal references that include detrimental remarks about a person's sexual orientation count as discrimination.

Genuine occupational requirements

In a select number of instances, it is lawful for an employer to judge people differently according to their sexual orientation. But they can only do so if the job genuinely requires that that the person taking it must be of a specific sexual orientation. A gay rights organisation could argue that a spokesperson for the group should be gay if their public appearances and statements are to carry appropriate weight.

Handling complaints

Employers are encouraged, when approached by someone complaining of discrimination or harassment, to deal with the issue sensitively and promptly. Complaints will inevitably arise as a consequence of actions that are either thoughtless or not intended to cause distress or upset. If the matter can be resolved on an informal basis, it should be done so.

If, however, an employee feels that the issue has not been dealt with in this way, they can use a company's grievance procedure. At the moment, under the Employment Act 2002, companies with more than 20 employees should have a grievance procedure set up. By 2004, all employers will be required to have such measures in place.

Employees who are not satisfied with the outcome of the grievance procedure, or who do not wish to pursue the matter internally, are entitled to lodge a complaint at an employment tribunal under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.

Employees must bring their complaint within three months of the discrimination or harassment taking place.

Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003

The regulations do not lay down an exact definition of a religion or a belief. This is done on the assumption that in most cases it will be obvious to a tribunal what constitutes or does not constitute a religion or belief. If there is ambiguity or debate, however, then the tribunal or court must assess what is a religion or belief. To do this, they will need to identify such characteristics as collective worship, a defined belief system, or a belief that conditions either a way of life or a view of the world. As well as covering less widespread faiths or beliefs, the regulations also include people who do not have religious beliefs.

The regulations apply to all employees and those in vocational training. The areas they cover include recruitment, the setting of terms and conditions for an employee, promotions, transfers, dismissals and training.

There are five specific activities that the Regulations make unlawful.

It is unlawful to discriminate directly against someone because of their religion or belief. This means employees must not be subject to less favourable treatment than others on the grounds of their faith or beliefs.

It is unlawful to discriminate indirectly against someone because of their sexual orientation. This means employers must not apply a criterion, provision or practice that places employees of a particular religion or belief at a disadvantage, except in those cases where it can be objectively justified.

It is unlawful to subject someone to harassment because of their religion or belief. Harassment is defined by the regulations as unwanted conduct that violates a person's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

It is unlawful to victimise someone because of an action they have taken or plan to take in connection with the regulations, such as making a formal complaint about discrimination on grounds of religion or belief or offering evidence in a tribunal case that involves a complaint.

And it is unlawful to discriminate against someone, in specific circumstances, after they cease to be an employee because of their religion or belief.

The regulations regard religion or belief as any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief. They do not, however, concern themselves with beliefs that are not akin to a religion or a philosophical belief, like holding strong political views or supporting a football club.

Since the rules are applied equally to actual and perceived religion of belief, they are also designed to protect people who are discriminated against on the assumption that they hold a particular religious or philosophical belief. Similarly, the regulations can be applied in those cases where discrimination occurs on the basis of the religion and belief of the people, like friends and family, with whom an individual associates.

Direct discrimination

An employer cannot do any of the following on the grounds of a person's religion or belief. They cannot choose not to employ them; dismiss them; refuse them training; refuse to promote them; impose adverse employment terms and conditions on them because they follow a particular religion or belief.

It is possible to justify direct discrimination but this can only happen in those cases where a genuine occupational requirement can be proven.

Indirect discrimination

A company or organisation is not allowed to have in place any recruitment strategies, internal practices, policies, benefits or rules that work to the disadvantage of people of a particular religion or belief. This holds true even if all employees are subject to them and even if the effect of the policies or rules in unintentional. Banning all headwear, for example, might discriminate against those like Sikhs for whom wearing a turban is a matter of religious faith.

Unlike direct discrimination, indirect discrimination will not be deemed unlawful if an employer can show that it is justified. This means an employer must demonstrate that there is a genuine business purpose and that the policy or practice is the only way of achieving that business aim.

Harassment

This is defined as any behaviour or actions that cause offence, fear or distress. On the one hand, this could be obvious and planned, such as bullying, or on the other insidious or unintended. The term covers teasing and name-calling and other sorts of behaviour that, although not violent, are nonetheless upsetting. Harassment does not have to be aimed at a particular person but could be the consequence of a wider culture that tolerates the telling of religious jokes.

If harassment occurs in the workplace, or somewhere associated with work like work-related social event, then a company or organisation could be held responsible for the behaviour of its staff. Indeed, the employer could be liable to pay compensation to the person who experiences the harassment if they are unable to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to stop harassment occurring.

Any employer who has to examine a complaint of harassment by an employee should first assess the nature and circumstances of the complaint. Once the evidence has collated, the employer will need to consider whether the events or actions could reasonably have caused offence.

Victimisation

Victimisation occurs when a person is subjected to unfair treatment as a result of planning to make or actually making a complaint about discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. A person will also be deemed to have suffered victimisation if they are treated unfairly for giving evidence that is related to a complaint about discrimination or harassment. Employers that do not take measures to stop this happening could be obliged to pay compensation, as could those individuals who carry out the victimisation.

Post-employment direct discrimination

Discrimination can still take place after a particular employee has left their place of work. Written or verbal references that include detrimental remarks about a person's religion or belief count as discrimination.

Genuine occupational requirements

In a select number of instances, it is lawful for an employer to judge people differently according to their religion or belief. If an organisation is able to demonstrate that is founded on, and its policies guided by, an ethos based on religious belief, it might be allowed to make religious faith or belief a genuine occupational requirement for a particular job. Not all of the jobs within such an organisation, however, would necessarily qualify as having a genuine occupational requirement.

Handling complaints

Employers are encouraged, when approached by someone complaining of discrimination or harassment, to deal with the issue sensitively and promptly. Complaints will inevitably arise as a consequence of actions that are either thoughtless or not intended to cause distress or upset. If the matter can be resolved on an informal basis, it should be done so.

If, however, an employee feels that the issue has not been dealt with in this way, they can use a company's grievance procedure. At the moment, under the Employment Act 2002, companies with more than 20 employees should have a grievance procedure set up. By 2004, all employers will be required to have such measures in place.

Employees who are not satisfied with the outcome of the grievance procedure, or who do not wish to pursue the matter internally, are entitled to lodge a complaint at an employment tribunal under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

Employees must bring their complaint within three months of the discrimination or harassment taking place.

Amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act

A number of clarifying amendments were introduced to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 by the Amended Equal Treatment Directive (ETAD).

The changes to the regulations came into effect on 1 October 2005.

The amendments set out a series of duties that employers must fulfil in order that people at work are not discriminated against on the grounds of their sex.

Under the Amended Equal Treatment Directive, employers must ensure that there is no discrimination or harassment in the workplace or working environment.

Employers must continue to see to it that people are not discriminated against in recruitment, employment or vocational training because of their gender; that women are not treated unfairly because they are pregnant or on maternity leave; that managers or colleagues or vocational training providers do not harass or sexually harass others; and that employees are not discriminated against when it comes to being chosen for further and higher education courses.

Additionally, employers are required to make all their employees aware that it could be deemed unlawful if they behave in such a manner as to offend someone else, or to violate their dignity, or to create a hostile environment.

Also unlawful is discrimination or harassment directed towards someone in unpaid practical work experience.

Partnerships must not discriminate when they provide people with death and retirement benefits.

Should someone complain that they have been the victim of discrimination or harassment, the employer must respond to the claim no later than eight weeks after it is made. Any employer that does not respond within this period may find that their failure to do so counts against them at any subsequent employment tribunal.

Age Discrimination Rules

On 1st October 2006, the government plans to introduce legislation that will outlaw discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of age. The new regulations will be part of the European Directive on Equal Treatment (or the Employment Directive), and will complement similar legislation that prevents the unfair treatment of employees because of disability, sexual orientation or religion and beliefs.

At the moment, the government is consulting on what should be included in the legislation, which will affect both employment and vocational training.

To this end, it has produced a document called Age Matters that covers the main areas where the new regulations might apply and how they might be implemented.

The aim is to draw up and have in place draft regulations by the end of 2004, so allowing employers sufficient time to prepare for the rules before they become law in October 2006.

The probable outcome of the consultation and the drafting is that, by 2006, it will be illegal not to employ someone simply because of their age and illegal to overlook someone for training for the same reason. The rules will also have a mirror application, safeguarding the right to fair treatment of younger, as well as older, workers. They may be waived only in the case of jobs where the need to observe, for example, Health and Safety legislation specifically requires someone younger.

Mandatory retirement

One particular issue that has been the source of much speculation is whether or not the new rules will abolish compulsory retirement ages. The concern is that, caught between the rock of a shortage of workers and the hard place of a shortfall in retirement savings, the government could find it difficult to resist the twin advantages of broadening the labour pool and postponing the pension claims of millions of workers that the dropping of mandatory retirement ages would bring. If contractual retirement ages are to go, employers' groups have expressed worries that they could face a surge in claims for unfair dismissal from older workers who have been made redundant. The new laws - if they abandon compulsory retirement ages - will mean that employers will be required to treat the redundancy or dismissal of an older worker in the same way as they would for any other, younger employee.

Currently, the government is saying no more than that it will judge the question according to the complexities that surround it.

Despite specific reservations, a flurry of recent surveys, the findings of which have no doubt been prompted by the tightening of the labour market, have indicated that increasing numbers of firms do appreciate the valuable contribution that the experience and know-how of older workers can add to their business.

Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment

Although the new anti-age discrimination laws are yet to be introduced, there is a voluntary code of good practice now in place that employers can use as a guide to eliminating age discrimination from the workplace.

The code, which was implemented in 1999, covers a number of employment issues and suggests how employers can conduct an employment policy that is not unfair to older and younger workers.

Below is a brief outline of the code.

Recruitment

Signs of good recruitment practice on the part of an employer include, the code says, an age-diverse workforce; job applications that come from candidates of all age groups; and job descriptions that focus solely on the skills, experience and ability needed to fill the position.

The code recommends that employers do not impose conditions or standards - whether in terms of experience, qualifications or personal qualities - that are unnecessary for the job. If an employer does add extra requirements, they could be discriminating on grounds of age.

When advertising a job, an employer should avoid obviously prescriptive and exclusive phrases such as 'candidates need to be aged between 30 and 35 years'. Less explicit requirements, however, can be equally discriminatory. Stipulating that applicants be 'young' or 'mature' is one example. Citing qualifications that are subtly age specific - GCSEs, for instance, were introduced after many potential candidates had left school - is another.

Where a job advertisement is placed can also have a bearing on the age of the applicants it attracts. Younger job seekers will often use career services and job centres; older job seekers might rely more on community and business networks. So advertising across a number of media and locations - newspapers, trade magazines, the internet, job centres, voluntary organisations and community noticeboards - will ensure that an employer reaches a broader cross-section of potential candidates.

Application forms should highlight the relevant skills and experience needed for the job rather than give undue prominence to personal details like age. The code suggests, where possible, that personal details be collected separately from other information, only to be re-introduced at the end of the selection process.

Companies should analyse and review their recruitment processes on a regular basis. Drawing up a profile of applicants according to age group will indicate how successful the firm has been at targeting and attracting both older and younger candidates.

Those companies that use agencies for their recruitment purposes should ensure that the agencies have equal opportunities policies in place and conduct selection processes that treat people of all ages fairly.

Selection

Signs of good selection practice on the part of an employer include, the code says, a written selection procedure that is positive about age; interviewers who understand equal opportunities selection methods; a monitoring process that ensures applicants of a wide range of ages reach the short lists, receive interviews and are chosen to fill the vacancies; and an absence of any complaints about discrimination on the grounds of age.

The methods used for judging applicants, whether they involve interviews, tests, exercises or day assessments, should be fair to all the candidates.

Interviews should centre on issues specific to the job and questions should not be prejudicial in any way. Using interviewers who are themselves varied in age will help safeguard against any indirect bias.

References should be sought and taken up in the same way for all candidates. To request a medical reference of an older applicant and not of a younger one is to discriminate on age since the implication is that the older person must, by virtue alone of their age, offer extra proof of their fitness.

Promotion

Signs of good promotion practice on the part of an employer include, the code says, a written company policy that details the way in which promotions are decided and that excludes considerations of age; an understanding by employees of the company's promotion and career development policy; employee evaluation reviews and appraisals that contribute to promotion decisions; and people of varying ages at different levels throughout the company.

Companies should not impose arbitrary age barriers to promotion, either because the employee is deemed too old or too young to be rewarded with the advancement that their abilities and proven track record warrant. In other words, if a person qualifies in every other respect for promotion, age should not be the reason why they are denied the opportunity to apply for a new post in the company.

Training and development

Signs of good staff training practice on the part of an employer include, the code says, employees who have a variety of relevant skills, irrespective of their age; and an opportunity for all employees of every age group to take advantage of training and development programmes.

The benefits of updating existing or acquiring new skills should not be limited to certain groups of employees based on their age. A company will gain if all its employees can learn new skills, whatever their age or position. Training older workers has its own additional value, says the code, since data indicates that turnover is traditionally lower among older employees.

Training techniques might need to be adapted to suit the needs of older workers who might not have any recent experience of formal learning. Equally, younger employees, although thoroughly familiar with the requirements of formal learning, might need some extra support in coping with hands-on training.

Training programmes and schemes should be reviewed to make sure that all employees of all ages are joining them in order to hone, refresh or acquire skills. All employees should be informed of the training that the company makes available and the programmes should be promoted to all workers, without any age-based exclusions.

Redundancy

Signs of good redundancy practice on the part of an employer include, the code says, using only objective business reasons for letting people go; a responsible communications process for dealing with redundancies; keeping a good age range among employees and retaining essential skills within the business after redundancies have been made; and a careful weighing of the needs of the individual worker as well as those of the company.

One of the dangers of using age as a criterion for making necessary redundancies is that the company often sheds key skills and irreplaceable knowledge along with the jobs. On the other hand, an exclusively 'last in, first out' approach is likely to have a disproportionate effect on younger employees, and could upset the balance of the company's age profile.

Companies should always make redundancies as they apply to particular jobs rather than to groups of workers selected according to criteria that are not job related, such as age.

Retirement

Signs of good retirement practice on the part of an employer include, the code says, a retirement policy that is understood by all employees and applies equally to all; a policy for the handing on of skills and knowledge that would otherwise be lost to the company through retirement; and offering employees guidance and choice on retirement options.

Companies are free to set their own retirement ages. This is usually done to coincide either with the pension scheme run by the company itself or with the state retirement age (when a person is entitled to draw their state pension).

To help workers plan for their retirements, companies should provide employees with guidance on the various types - state, occupational, personal or stakeholder - of pension provision available.

Some organisations use flexible, phased retirement programmes both to give workers the opportunity to adapt to the switch from work to a non-working life, and to afford the business the chance to bridge any sudden skills gap that might open up as the result of employee retirements.

Other companies consider part-time working or job-sharing as other ways of softening the impact of retirement for employers and employees alike.