The Labour Court has rejected a claim that having to retire at 65 is age discrimination.
It made the decision in the case of a service engineer who asked to be kept on after his 65th birthday. However, the request from Denis O'Keeffe in July 2019 was refused by management at Pat O'Donnell and Company who stated in writing a few weeks later that it was company policy that all service engineers retire on their 65th birthday. Mr O'Keeffe claims that he had never taken sick leave and didn't believe he needed to stop working for the company when he turned 65.
The case came before the Workplace Relations Commission on 10 November 2020 who held that Mr O'Keeffe's complaint was unfounded. He then appealed that decision to the Labour Court on 9 December 2020. The hearing took place virtually on 19 August 2021.
Mr O'Keeffe claimed that he was discriminated against on age grounds. He said he never signed a contract and he was aware of one other service engineer who had worked beyond 65. The company maintained that there was 'an objectively justified mandatory retirement age' for his category of worker and that Mr O'Keeffe was aware of this.
His employment ceased on 21 January 2020 when he turned 65. In its submission to the WRC, Siptu said there was no objective justification for having a mandatory retirement age, highlighting that office staff were regularly allowed on work beyond 65 years of age.
The Labour Court rejected his appeal and held that based on the balance of probabilities there was a mandatory retirement age for service engineers. 'While the Complainant disputed there was a mandatory retirement age, no explanation was offered as to why he looked for an extenssion if he did not know that retirement at 65 was mandatory,' it said. 'The Complainant pointed to only one individual who had worked beyond 65 in support of his contention that a retirement age of 65 was not mandatory. But (he) did not contradict the (company's) evidence that the individual in question had transferred out of his role as a service engineer five years before his retirement,' it added.
The Labour Court took into account evidence concerning the nature of the job, the fact that it is safety-critical, the training period required to qualify service engineers and the investment required by the company in terms of training apprentices to the standard they required. Therefore, it found that the mandatory retirement age was 'objectively and reasonably justified'.