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Managing Older Workers; An Employer's Rights and Responsibility

Older workers

For employers with an ageing workforce it is likely that concerns about an older worker’s performance may need to be addressed at some stage.

Having such a conversation with an employee who has been long-serving, loyal and dedicated can be a difficult one.

More older people are now in work than ever before as it provides financial benefits and can boost their health and well-being.

Government research (1) which analysed data from 1984 to 2015, revealed the following:

  • The employment rate for people aged 50 to 64 has grown from 55.4 to 69.6 per cent over the past 30 years.

  • The employment rate for people aged 65 and over has doubled over the past 30 years, from 4.9 to 10.2 per cent.

  • The largest increases in employment rates over the last 30 years were for two groups: for women aged 60-64 the rate grew from 17.7 to 40.7 per cent; and for women aged 55-59 it grew from 48.6 to 68.9 per cent

A study by insurance company Aviva found that a third of people aged over 50 who are employed in the private sector are now planning to retire later than they previously hoped. (2)

Regular health and safety risk assessments can help an employer to maintain the health and productivity of ageing employees.

But there may come a time when underperformance cannot be ignored and it has to be addressed, and that can be a sensitive subject with an older member of staff.

The matter should be dealt with in accordance with the established performance management policy in the same way it would be for a younger employee.

The focus should be on discovering the root cause of the drop in performance. It is important to keep an open mind and not jump to any conclusions in order to avoid the risk of a claim for age discrimination – a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (3).

Acas has produced guidance titled older workers: rights at work. (4)

An employer is not under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments based solely on an employee’s age. This should, however, be considered if they have a disability – as it should be with an employee of any age who has a disability.


1. Employment statistics for workers aged 50 and over since 1984 - Publications - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 24]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/employment-statistics-for-workers-aged-50-and-over-since-1984

2. Retirement plans on hold - a third of workers over 50 to retire later and work 8 years longer than hoped - Aviva [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 24]. Available from: http://www.aviva.co.uk/media-centre/story/17606/retirement-plans-on-hold-a-third-of-workers-over-5/

3. Equality Act 2010: guidance - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 24]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance

4. Older People’s Work Rights | Advice & Guidance | Acas [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jan 24]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5075


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