In the case of Mrs J Hutchinson v Asda Stores Ltd, Mrs Hutchinson (who was in her early 70s) had been employed by Asda as a shop floor assistant for over 20 years. Sadly, she started to exhibit signs of dementia, and her colleagues started to notice that she was becoming confused and forgetful. Although Mrs Hutchinson refused the opportunity to speak to the Occupational Health Department, she did attend meetings with her employer where retirement was discussed as an option.
Eventually Mrs Hutchinson resigned and brought a number of claims including constructive unfair dismissal, disability related harassment and age discrimination. The tribunal was critical of Asda’s approach. By repeatedly raising the option of retirement, even though it was well-meaning, it had the effect of making Mrs Hutchinson feel as though she was being pushed out and that Asda felt that she was too old to be there. Although the Employment Tribunal acknowledged that Mrs Hutchinson refused assistance from occupational health, it held that it should have been obvious to Asda that she was disabled and therefore a more sensitive approach was required.
This is a reminder that employers should be cautious in relation to older workers who are showing signs of ill-health. There is always a risk associated in asking about an individual’s plans to retire and, instead, employers should consider asking employees about future work plans and aspirations. Putting in place a workplace retirement policy might also help managers approach it in the right way, and help employees to feel more comfortable discussing their future work plans.
This is only intended to be a summary and not specific legal advice. If you would like further information or advice, please do contact a member of our team.