Offering a chair to an older work colleague could break equality laws

Who gets offered a chair at a meeting at work could leave an employer open to claims of age discrimination, a tribunal found
Who gets offered a chair at a meeting at work could leave an employer open to claims of age discrimination, a tribunal found - 10'000 HOURS/DIGITAL VISION

Offering a chair to an older colleague at work could count as age discrimination, a tribunal has found.

Being given the opportunity to sit while younger staff stay standing up may amount to “less favourable treatment”, an employment tribunal heard.

As a result, employers who offer a chair to elderly workers and not to their less experienced peers could be breaking equality laws as the older employee could conclude they were being treated “disadvantageously”.

The ruling came in the case of a 66-year-old recycling plant operative who sued for discrimination after a colleague asked him if he wanted to sit down during his shift.

Filipe Edreira – who believed his employers were trying to force him out – claimed that he was being singled out as no one else at the site used chairs.

Although his claim was dismissed as the tribunal found he was given the chance to sit down because colleagues were concerned about his health, the tribunal did agree that the move was “unwanted conduct” that could have been discriminatory.

‘Treated differently’

“Given that we found it was an unusual thing to do, in our judgment [Mr Edreira] could legitimately conclude that he was being treated differently to others and therefore disadvantageously,” employment judge David Faulkner said.

The Birmingham tribunal heard Mr Edreira worked for Severn Waste Services (SWS) at its processing site in Worcester, from December 2006 until he was sacked in October 2023.

Of the 80 employees, he was the only one older than age 66, although there were four over 60 and about half were 50 years of age or over.

He turned 66 on Nov 3 2021, and wanted to work for another 18 months, it was heard.

In an email in July 2022, Mr Edreira – who could not lift heavy objects following surgery – said he had heard colleagues say they had heard bosses “encouraging people to retire at 66”. He complained that in May 2022 he had been forced to move from the cabin that dealt with paper, in which he had worked for 10 years, to one that dealt with plastic.

‘Nothing unpleasant or rude’

About the same time, Idris Buraimoh, his manager, “asked him if he wanted a chair when he had not asked for one”.

The hearing was told: “[Mr Edreira] replied he did not want one.

“[Mr Buraimoh] did not give a reason for the offer, though there was nothing unpleasant or rude about the way in which he asked the question.

“[Mr Edreira] told us he believes Mr Buraimoh was told to offer it – we assume by management – as part of [SWS]’s aim to get him to leave as someone who had reached age 66.

“[SWS] says it is commonplace to offer appropriate support which will help employees be more comfortable at work and that chairs are routinely offered to those on light duties or feeling unwell.

“It says that because shifts are 10 hours long it is not uncommon for people to need to sit, and that chairs can also be offered long-term as an adjustment for health reasons.”

Case rejected

The hearing was told chairs were routinely offered to staff who might find them beneficial, because of health or pregnancy.

However, Mr Edreira insisted employees were not allowed to sit down during their shifts and that he did not see anyone using a chair.

In July, he was wrongly issued with an Awol letter accusing him of taking unauthorised absence from work. That same month he went off sick, and in October he was sacked.

Mr Edreira, now 68, sued for age discrimination and harassment claiming the company had tried to force him out after he reached 66. However, the tribunal rejected his case.

Of the chair claim, Employment Judge Faulkner said that Mr Edreira’s boss had been concerned with his health, not his age.