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How to avoid unfair dismissal & age discriminations

by Mike Keeling, Sales Director of One Click Umbrella

On 1st April 2014, together with business owners and directors from the North West, I attended a mock employment tribunal which had been set up by a leading employment law specialist.

The event was designed to show employers that they really don’t want to be caught up in any sort of tribunal as the consequences can be far reaching and the costs can be business-ending.  It really was an eye-opener for me and many of the other delegates.

In a nutshell, we watched the story of April Spring who at the age of 62 was taking her employer of 31 years to an employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal and age discrimination.  April, by her own admission, was not a spring chicken – slow to adapt to new technology, not keen on the new boss who had been dropped into the business to drive growth, but she was experienced and well respected in her field. The company Fletcher Sketch Ltd had commissioned a report called ‘Out with the Old and In with the New‘ and had taken the recommendations in the report on board.

They knew they needed to cut costs – they were over staffed with qualified architects (of which April was one) – so they came to the conclusion that they were going to make redundancies in the Architect team. This is where things started to unravel.

  • They didn’t consult with the architects before drawing up their redundancy criteria
  • They didn’t consider other roles within the business
  • They lost the scoring sheets on which the redundancy decision was based
  • They took on a new and younger architect within 2 weeks of making April redundant

The list goes on….

We heard the cross examination of April and her employers, and we all thought that the case of age discrimination was concrete. We heard the final submissions, and again it seemed that the company had clearly discriminated against April on account of her age. Clearly this was going to only end one way.

As it happens, we were all surprised at the outcome. The judge, ably played by Kirsten Barry, a Manchester barrister (who had not seen any of the evidence before the actual event) delivered her judgment. It seems that whilst the company seemed to have a culture of age discrimination, this is very hard for a claimant to prove. Whilst the company had made a hash of the redundancy selection process, it was not possible to prove that she had been selected for redundancy because of her age. The directors were breathing a collective sigh of relief at this point.

However, as they had not followed the correct process of consultation and communication, the judge decided that she had been unfairly dismissed.

The cost of compensation to April was in the region of £60,000.

So what did we all learn from the event?

Get it right, get advice and make sure you follow the process!


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