Rishi Sunak’s call for young people to choose the office over home could lead to discrimination claims, warns lawyers Royds Withy King, as has urged young people to return to the office to help them further their careers.
Whilst it is most certainly easier and, in many cases, preferable to support those starting their careers with the training, coaching and mentoring in an office environment, employers may find themselves facing discrimination claims if policies designed to achieve this are adopted solely based on age.
Malcolm Gregory, a Partner in the Employment Law team at Royds Withy King said, “Age is a protected characteristic in employment law. If an organisation wants to put in place an office working policy requiring younger employees to attend the office, those employees could say they are being treated less favourably than those in other age groups. That is going to be unlawful age discrimination.
“It is possible for an employer to introduce such a policy if it can be objectively justified and if such a policy is proportionate to a legitimate aim – for example, developing talent.
“It does, however, open a can of worms. Employers are advised to tackle this in a way that ignores age and instead focuses on whether training and career development is best delivered primarily face-to-face in an office environment. If it is, a policy requiring office working will mean older workers in a new role would be treated in the same way as younger workers in the earlier stages of their careers.
“This is an issue that many employers have yet to fully grabble with and I am sure we will see an increase in discrimination claims in the coming months where employers get the balance wrong.
“What is really needed is some inventive thinking about how employers support those starting their careers rather than simply telling them to attend the workplace.”