Retirement Age & Employment Law
Ireland has no single fixed statutory retirement age for employees. Other jurisdictions do - for example Norway is one of only a few countries with such a policy whereby the law says that employees must retire at 70, whilst in certain sectors such as finance employees must retire at 67.
In Ireland if there is no set retirement age in the Contract of Employment and if this is not referred to expressly or implied then it would seem that the employee cannot be forced to retire. However, the retirement age for public sector employees who joined before the 1st April 2004 is 65 years whilst some occupations such as Gardai and members of the Defence Forces have provisions for earlier retirement.
The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) made an important decision in this area in the latter part of 2010. The employee in question had been employed since 1984 and did not have a contract of employment and no contractual documentation setting out a retirement age save for the occupational pension policy which set out a "normal retirement age" of 65. The employee argued that this did not amount to a fixed retirement age. However, the employer was able to show that it was custom and practice that employees retire at 65 apart from exceptions which were explained.
The EAT found that the company was de facto operating with a retirement age of 65 and therefore this was to be seen as the normal retiring age of employees. For employers who have not operated such a de-facto retirement age they may find it difficult to defend claims of unfair dismissal where they attempt to compulsorily retire employees.
The Irish government has said that it will raise the retirement age to 66 in four years and eventually to 68 as part of the reform of pensions under the National Pension Framework. However, many are wondering what will happen to those employees without a private pension who are forced to retire prior to being eligible for the old age pension. The pension retirement age issue is a major question throughout the OECD where life expectancy has risen by 10.6 years from 1960 to 2007 and where men spend an average 18.5 years in retirement according to 2010 figures compared to 13.4 years in 1958.