You've got until October 1 to make sure that you comply with new laws against age discrimination.
With the new Age Discrimination legislation coming into play on October 1, now is the time for restaurateurs to make sure they fully understand the implications of the new laws, or risk being dragged through the courts.
The laws, designed to protect workers of all ages from being discriminated against in the workplace on the grounds of their age, will apply from the moment you begin the hiring process. "It's important that you make the application process as fair as possible, in the same way as you must for race and sex,"
says Tania Goodman, Partner and Head of Employment at Seddons Solicitors. "Which means that descriptions in job adverts such as ‘vibrant and energetic bar staff', where the subtext is that you want young people, are out. Some people reading the ad might feel they are not welcome because they are too old, and they could pursue an Employment Tribunal claim based on age discrimination."
Instead, the tone of adverts should be neutral and non-age-specific, and they should focus on the type of experience required and preferred qualifications. Adverts should not be placed on just the internet or in magazines and newspapers aimed at the young. They should not ask for someone's age on the application form, or even specify minimum or maximum years of experience required. When interviewing, try to interview a wide range of people, advises Goodman.
Restaurants or bars that ignore the new laws could face a very expensive court battle.
"Compensation for discrimination-based claims for loss of earnings doesn't have a financial cap and there's often an associated award for ‘injury to feelings' which can be anything up to £25,000."
The Forum of Private Business says companies must also ensure that employees receive equal perks and pay, as well as adequate termination periods across the board, regardless of differences in age. FPB Chief Executive Nick Goulding said, "Owners and managers of smaller firms have closer working relationships with their employees but they must also make sure that they don't become complacent as a result."
You can, however, specify what's needed for a role if you can prove that it's for fair reasons.
For example, if there's a kitchen job which demands hard physical work, you can state that, as long as you don't make assumptions that young equals fit. This falls under the defence known as ‘justification' for a genuine occupational requirement.
There are also "creative ways to find a solution", says Goodman. "You are perfectly entitled to brand your restaurant, and if, say, you have a uniform which some people might not feel they want to wear, as long as what you're suggesting doesn't fall foul of sex or race discrimination, then that's perfectly acceptable." At the end of the day, if you have measures in place to ensure your selection process is fair to all ages, "you are entitled to choose who you want to work for you".
Employers should be encouraged to see that a workforce made up of a wide range of ages is a positive thing, said Jonathan Hollow, Portal Editor of Businesslink business advisers. "My understanding is that, on the whole, the hospitality sector is less likely to employ the over 35s, which doesn't make much sense when there's a lack of skills supply in the industry. Evidence suggests that older employees have lower absenteeism than younger employees and are often reliable and flexible because they may well have thought long and hard about their choice of career."
He added that it also makes sense to reflect your customer base, pointing out, "The population as a whole is ageing."