Elves: Too old for Christmas?

It’s a sad scenario, but unfortunately, one of Santa’s eldest elves is getting on a bit. He’s now struggling to carry presents around the workshop and he just isn’t as quick as the rest of his colleagues when it comes to building toys, wrapping them and packing them on to the sleigh. But, what are Santa’s rights when it comes to weeding out those elves that don’t cut the mustard?

Of course, we make light of this topic given the nature of the time of year, but this is a very common situation for a lot of employers.

Since 1st October 2006 in the UK it’s been unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of someone’s age. The Equality Act was a law introduced in 2010 that also safeguards people from ageism and other forms of discrimination, so an employer would be unable to change an employee’s working terms and conditions adversely, deny them the opportunity for promotion and, most importantly, they cannot dismiss an employee based on age.

However, there is a time when it is lawful to discriminate.  ACAS is a government organisation that provides expert and impartial advice on good practice in the workplace, and it’s guide for employers and employees, Age and the Workplace, gives information about the circumstances when it is lawful to treat people differently because of their age, for example, if there is an occupational requirement.

Going back to our Santa scenario, he hired his elf for strenuous, physical work, which at the time would have been manageable, but in the interests of health and safety, this is now no longer the case. What he does have an obligation to do is to place the elf in to a similar role with the same pay and entitlements, just with less physical work. So whilst Santa cannot sack his elf, he does have a responsibility to ensure that he is in the right job for his physical condition – and that goes for any elf regardless of age.

Time catches up with all of us, but employers need to be very careful about how to handle this situation with an employee. A simple chat could easily dispel any issues and will also give the employee a chance to say that they feel unable to keep up with the physical work.

Thankfully, there are laws in place which protects both employer and employee. So, whilst Santa’s elf may be physically unable to carry out his job due to his age, there may be other things he can do instead which he is just as capable of doing. Everyone’s a winner!