Sacked for having a birthday

A restaurant in Brisbane has been fined almost $30,000 after telling a long-serving worker his employment would be terminated on his 65th birthday. The restaurant operator had written to the employee explaining that it was “the policy of the company that we do not employ any staff that attains the retirement age, which in your case is 65 years”. The employee then responded in writing, stating that the termination was “irrefutably an act of blatant discrimination”.

As the employee pointed out to the owners of the restaurant, his ability and effectiveness as a worker for their company would not be any different after his 65th birthday than it was before.

Despite his response, the company stuck with its decision to terminate his position and advised the employee that it did not wish to enter any further correspondence with him. It was at this point when the employee contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman, which then took the case to the Federal Circuit Court.

“Limiting employment opportunities of workers because of their age is totally unacceptable and we take such conduct very seriously because of the impact it has on individual workers and the labour market generally,” Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said in a statement.

In April 2011, the employee had left the company on long service leave. He raised a number of issues with his employment before returning to work. After submitting his concerns in writing, he then received the letter – drafted by the company’s accountant – detailing his impending termination. The accountant who wrote the document has had no workplace relations experience or training.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigation found the employer’s conduct to contravene the Fair Work Act. Under the Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee due to race, age, gender or religion, and other protected attributes.

“Discriminating against workers because of their age can have a terrible impact on their self-respect and dignity and deprive them of an equal opportunity to make a positive economic benefit to the company and the wider community,” Ms James explained. “We encourage employees to speak up against discrimination they may have encountered in the workplace.”

This case highlights the importance of ensuring staff are appropriately trained and the advice of a suitably experienced external provider is sought when an issue arises that cannot be dealt with in house.