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Can my employer force me to retire?

It’s no longer legal for an employer to make you retire at 65, or any other age, unless it can objectively prove there is a real business need for you to do so.

However, as the recent case of an academic forced to retire before his 70th birthday shows, any employer attempting to impose a fixed retirement age must be very careful not to show age discrimination in the process.

What happened in this case?

In December 2019, an employment tribunal found that Oxford University physicist, Professor Paul Ewart, had been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against on the grounds of age when his contract was not renewed in September 2017.

At the time, he told the tribunal, he was in the middle of important ongoing research.

Oxford University’s current Employer Justified Retirement Age (ERJA) policy stipulated that staff in senior grades must retire the September before their 69th birthday unless able to make a successful application for an extension.

Professor Ewart was granted one extension but turned down when he applied for another to run until September 2020.

Highly discriminatory

In its judgement, the tribunal in Reading said the university’s ERJA policy was highly discriminatory and that it was ‘hard to think of a more severe discriminatory impact’.

It added: ‘There can hardly be a more discriminatory effect in the employment field than being dismissed simply because you hold a particular protected characteristic.’

After the case Professor Ewart said: “It has never been a matter of money, it’s a matter of allowing people the dignity of continuing employment and providing worthwhile work in their life.”

The University, which may appeal, said its ERJA policy was intended to bring in younger and more diverse staff.

The tribunal disagreed, finding the policy had created only a ‘trivial’ number of new opportunities and as a result, forcing older staff to retire was not justified.

What does the law say on retirement age?

Since 2011, it has been illegal to force workers to retire at 65.

This means, that in most circumstances, when and how you retire is broadly up to you.

You may want to discuss your retirement plans in advance with your employer – for example, the possible introduction of more flexible working – but you don’t have to.

Key points to remember include:

  • If you reach state pension age whilst still working, you can claim your state pension at the same time or defer payments;
  • If you work beyond state pension age you are no longer required to pay national insurance on any earnings so make sure your employer knows this and does not make this deduction.

For help and information about this area of the law please contact Wards Solicitors’ specialist Employment Team or Partner Joe Nicholls directly.

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