Some UK companies will find it difficult to comply with the Age Discrimination Act, due to become law in October 2006, while a new report suggests that senior management need to give more support to c

Businesses operating in the youth market face the biggest problems in meeting the requirements of the Act. They will not be able specifically to target young people when recruiting, says Paul Richards of JLT Risk Solutions. "In addition they will have to be very careful about the wording they use in recruitment advertising and in contracts of employment. How many are prepared for the changes in culture and practice required to avoid being tripped up?"

A new survey published by Eversheds law firm and Cranfield School of Management also shows that HR departments are not getting the full support of their senior management in the implementation of new age discrimination laws. Just over half of respondents (55%) believe their senior managers are not committed to eliminating ageism in the workplace.

The research shows that stereotypical attitudes are alive among senior managers and, in some cases, HR professionals themselves. Nearly a third of the 1000 respondents perceived older workers as unreliable, unskilled and less adaptable to change. On the other hand, younger employees were viewed as the main culprits for taking sick leave and being less loyal to an organisation.

The report also highlighted a lack of awareness regarding the full implications of the new legislation, with 40% of respondents unaware of the effect on occupational pensions.

According to the UK's Employers' Forum on Age, it is estimated that the cost to companies in litigation during the first year of implementation is likely to be £193m. In the US, where age discrimination legislation is already in place, this area of employment claims now accounts for about one fifth of all discrimination cases. Assuming that the UK experiences a similar percentage, British business could eventually be looking at approximately 42,000 cases annually amounting to around £1.13bn, according to insurers. And these figures do not include legal fees.

"The message is, that having the procedures in place helps, but will not stop an action where the legal costs may run into six figures. This is something that businesses must take seriously and they should already be examining their attitudes and practices," says Richards.