Once again it appears RTE has got into difficulty when trying to enforce a mandatory retirement age clause against an employee. In this particular case Ms Roper successfully brought a claim that RTE had unlawfully discriminated against her on the grounds of age by making her retire at 65. Ms Roper was awarded one year's salary (€100,000) which is double what Ms Cox was awarded against RTE in a similar case in 2018.

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 - 2015 an employer can only legally force an employee to retire if they have:

a) a mandatory contractual retirement age; and

b) have a retirement age policy that can show the mandatory retirement age is objectively justified by reference to a legitimate aim and that  the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

A lot of employers will have a mandatory retirement age in their employment contracts, but fail to have the necessary policy justifying its existence, which effectively makes the clause redundant.

In this particular case RTE had a retirement age policy and a contractual clause. However, the WRC rejected the objective justification relied upon on the grounds that it was generic reasoning that effectively had been applied on a blanket basis. The WRC explained that the objective justification must be looked at individually, so that it is specific to that role since each role is different, particularly in such a large organisation as RTE.

So what can we learn from this decision? 

  • Employers need to review their retirement age policy regularly, ideally on annual basis.
  • It is also advisable to make sure that the objective justification for any retirement age is considered in respect of the specific role and not just adopted on a blanket basis.
  • It is also not advisable to just list a number of objective justifications in the hope that one or more may be relevant for any particular employee.
  • Employers should ensure that their retirement age policy can be amended and that any changes are clearly communicated to the affected employees.
  • Consider whether a fixed term contract might be a feasible option, bearing in mind it must also provide objective justification.