John McCririck’s case against Channel Four may remind employers that they can’t make people retire anymore

9th January 2013

He may be an unlikely standard bearer or alternatively exactly the right man for for the job. But cigar-chomping, libertarian horse racing pundit John McCririck is set to make the case for older people who want to continue working long past the standard retirement age by suing his former employers.

As the Guardian reports today, McCririck is suing Channel Four and IMG Media, the sports and media group, which has taken over coverage of racing for the channel.

McCririck is alleging age discrimination in the decision to axe him from the channel’s racing coverage and, given it is the sport of kings, is asking for the kingly sum of £3m.

McCririck is asking for some £2.5m in punitive damages and a further £500,000 in compensation for loss of future earnings, unfair career damage, public humiliation, stress and mental anguish.  

The case is being brought on a no-win no fee basis by London-based employment and sports law solicitor Stephen Beverley of Cavendish Legal Group.

This may be a case of wounded celebrity pride, but it does actually highlight a very significant issue which many employees and employers may not have thought through.

Of course, many people have been complaining about the steady increase in the state retirement age – when they can receive the basic state pension – with men and women due to be equalised at age 65 in 2018, before the age moves to 66 by 2020 and towards 67 beyond 2024. But there is another side to the retirement age coin.

The default retirement age, which was 65, has been abolished too as reported here by the BBC in 2011. That means that employers cannot insist you retire at a particular age – an argument to be used by McCririck in the dispute over his rolling contract – which stopped rolling. Instead employers may now have to prove that you cannot perform your job to an adequate standard – the stuff of nightmares for human resources departments.

It will be interesting to see if Channel Four dare to argue that Mr McCririck’s performance as a racing pundit was suffering. He seemed more than capable of talking and tic tacing simultaneously the last time we watched. 

Clearly in this case and many others, people who love their jobs won’t want to move on.

But employers face another challenge which their pension advisers are only starting to warn them about – what happens if employees cannot afford to retire?

That could see a huge range of employers – large and small – facing employees who would rather be putting their feet up but can’t afford to.

This is all happening at a very interesting time. In the next four years, a new workplace pension reform is being rolled out in a bid to increase the level of retirement saving in the UK. Many experts predict that some employers, facing all sorts of cost pressures, will do the bare minimum and offer 3 per cent as required by the Government  with their employees putting in 4 per cent or actively opting out.

However if the default retirement age issue gets a higher profile, then they may reconsider and decide to fund a more generous pension rather than have to offer ‘golden retirement goodbyes’, conduct difficult performance reviews or in the worst scenario end up in court.

The John McCririck case might just be something employees, and certainly employee representatives, could draw bosses’ attention to when they next get around to discussing the employer's contribution to the company pension. 


Other useful links:

To calculate your age, here is the link to the state pension age calculator


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