Discrimination claims | Offering a chair to older workers could amount to ageism, tribunal says

Offering a chair to older workers could amount to ageism, tribunal says

Offering a chair to an older colleague at work could count as age discrimination, an employment judge has ruled.

Filipe Edreira, a recycling plant worker, sued his former employer Severn Waste Water Service after he was asked to sit down during his shift.

Mr Edreira, who was 66 at the time of the incident in 2022, believed the company was trying to force him to retire, and claimed he was being singled out as no-one else at the site used chairs.

He had worked at the company for 17 years before he was sacked in October 2023.

But his claims of ageism were dismissed as the tribunal ruled he was offered a chair because colleagues were concerned about his health. At the time, Mr Edreira was unable to carry out heavy lifting following an operation.

Employment judge David Faulkner did, however, conclude that the offer amounted to “unwanted conduct” that could have been discriminatory.

Judge Faulkner said: “Given that we found it was an unusual thing to do, in our judgement [Mr Edreira] could legitimately conclude that he was being treated differently to others and therefore disadvantageously.”

The tribunal heard that, out of 80 employees working at the recycling plant in Worcester, Mr Edreira was the eldest and the only person aged over 66, though around half were 50 years of age or over.

In July 2022, Mr Edreira claimed to have heard from co-workers that bosses were “encouraging people to retire at 66”. Mr Edreira reportedly wanted to continue working for at least another 18 months.

Around the same time, his manager Idris Buraimoh “asked him if he wanted a chair when he had not asked for one” during a shift.

The hearing was told: “[Mr Edreira] replied he did not want one. [Mr Buraimoh] did not give a reason for the offer, though there was nothing unpleasant or rude about the way in which he asked the question.

“[Mr Edreira] told us he believes Mr Buraimoh was told to offer it - we assume by management - as part of SWS's aim to get him to leave as someone who had reached age 66.”

The evidence went on: “SWS says it is commonplace to offer appropriate support which will help employees be more comfortable at work and that chairs are routinely offered to those on light duties or feeling unwell.

“It says that because shifts are 10 hours long it is not uncommon for people to need to sit, and that chairs can also be offered long-term as an adjustment for health reasons.”

However, Mr Edreira insisted employees were not allowed to sit down during their shifts and that he did not see anyone else using a chair.

In July, he went off sick and was later incorrectly issued an AWOL warning. Months later, in October, he was sacked.

Mr Edreira launched tribunal proceedings on the grounds of age discrimination and harassment, claiming his ex-employer had tried to force him to quit due to his age. 

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His appeal was unsuccessful.

Judge Faulkner concluded “on balance that chairs were not routinely offered to employees in or around May 2022.”

He went on: “The crucial question...was whether [Mr Edreira] had also proved facts from which we could conclude that the offer of the chair was because of age.

“[His] case was not that he was offered a chair because he was 'old' or 'older than most workers' but because he had reached age 66.

“It had never happened before and there was no explanation given for it, but we did not think that was sufficient of itself to indicate that him being over age 66 was in Mr Buraimoh's mind, consciously or otherwise, when he offered the chair.”

The judge added: “We were told that Mr Buraimoh does not know why he offered the chair, but we thought that what was a much more likely explanation for the change of practice in this regard, namely that Mr Buraimoh had become aware of [his health condition] at the time of the cabin moves and offered the chair for that reason.”

Legal implications of discrimination at work

Mr Edreira's claims didn't hold up when scrutinised by an employment tribunal panel, but data shows that the issue of age discrimination is still a pressing one for UK employers and employees alike.

Research from the UK Parliament has previously found that of workers who have applied for jobs since turning 50, over a quarter (27%) have been put off jobs since turning 50 as they sound like they're aimed at younger candidates; almost a third (32%) believe they have been turned down for a job because of their age.

Speaking previously to HR Grapevine, Stephen Woodhouse, Employment Law Solicitor at Stephensons, said that age, like gender, is a protected characteristic and therefore, attempting to force a worker into retirement due to age is illegal.

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“Under legislation set out in the Equality Act 2010, age is categorised as a ‘protected characteristic’. This essentially means that an employer cannot make derogatory comments, treat someone less favourably or for that person to be put at a disadvantage, because of their age,” Woodhouse said.

“In some scenarios, an employer may be allowed to apply a genuine occupational requirement for a job role based on age. However, this must be objectively justified and a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If an organisation discriminates against an employee because of their age, without objective justification, that is likely to be grounds for the employee to bring a claim at an employment tribunal.

“It is imperative that HR teams take measures to prevent age discrimination in the workplace. For instance, this could include the implementation and communication of anti-discrimination policies, regularly reviewing hiring and recruitment practices as well as better training for colleagues to provide guidance on how to eradicate age discrimination in the workplace,” Woodhouse added.

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