The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered RTÉ to pay former television producer €100,000 in compensation after she was forced to retire at age 65.
The producer, Anne Roper, filed a complaint against RTÉ in January 2019, claiming that they had discriminated against her based-on age. Ms Roper approached the HR department at RTÉ and requested to continue to work for a further 18 months. She stated that, as the annual pension income was €12,000 and her annual salary at the broadcaster was €100,000, she wanted time to work out her finances.
When it became clear that she would not be allowed to stay on and after trying to resolve the dispute through RTÉ’s grievance procedures, with the support of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), she decided to take the case to the WRC. There was no mention of retirement date or the age at which she must retire in Ms Roper’s contract.
RTÉ claimed that in the interest of achieving “intergenerational fairness and to facilitate the promotion of younger producers.” They submitted that as attrition is very low within the organisation, with almost no turnover at producer and director level, as a result “young people are prevented from progressing” and their output was as such “deprived of the ideas and input of young people”.
The broadcaster did concede that in exceptional circumstances they do retain staff beyond the age of 65, but they didn’t deem Ms Roper’s circumstances as exceptional.
The WRC’s adjudicating officer said that she was not satisfied that RTÉ had shown “there is a connection between the complainant’s retirement at age 65 and the broadcaster’s objective to encourage intergenerational fairness”.
She said that while she was mindful of the “precariousness” of RTÉ’s funding and understood that they needed to find ways to cut costs, she also stated that; “It must be the case that the closure in 2017 of the young people’s programmes department had the effect of cutting off the supply of young programme-makers coming up through the organisation”.
She went on to say that the retention of older presenters based on their ‘on air’ appeal also fails to open jobs to younger employees and that this too must contribute to the career stagnation that RTÉ’s witnesses claimed closed off promotion for younger employees.
This decision further endorses the move by the WRC to prevent employers from requiring employees to retire at a particular age, whether such a requirement is incorporated as a contractual term or not. It also gives an insight into the approach of the WRC to the objective justification defence that employers have been seeking to rely on. This ruling indicated that this is going to be given a narrow interpretation.
Employers need to be aware that the enforceability of compulsory retirement clauses and the concept of employees retiring at 65 or any other age is now very much a thing of the past.
RTE released a statement to say they’re reviewing the decision of the WRC. They are entitled to appeal the decision in the Labour Court.
About the author, Marc Fitzgibbon, Senior Partner and Head of Employment