It will be unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age in employment from October 1. Are employers prepared? Steve Crabb finds a lot of heads, senior ones at that, buried in sand

Some time in the next month, unless something really improbable happens, the new ban on age discrimination in employment will take its next major leap towards becoming a reality. And once it has passed through Parliament it's all set to hit the statute books on October 1.
You would think that employers have had plenty of time to put their houses in order with regard to this.
After all, it is two years now since the legislation was first telegraphed and the issue has been kept in the limelight by magazines such as People Management and, just recently, The Economist magazine - all of which have been stressing the many positive business benefits that will be gained from employers taking an enlightened approach to the age of employees in the workplace.
In case you are wondering, best practice in this area means being age-neutral - not, as some people mistakenly think, positively discriminating in favour of older workers and creating a few token jobs in the front of the store.
As you have probably guessed by now, the survey evidence shows that, far from being prepared for what's coming, most employers still have their heads well and truly buried in the sand.
A study by law firm Thomas Eggar has found that three-quarters of HR professionals say that their organisations are still discriminating on the basis of age and half have yet to do anything to prepare for the coming legislation. And the problem starts at the top of the company: only 14% of top executives were said to be sufficiently clued up about what's going to happen (which could, of course, be read as an indictment of the human resources personnel who completed the survey).
Another survey out by consultancy Hewitt Associates, reinforces this dismal picture: only a quarter of UK organisations consider the ageing workforce to be a key business issue.
And this is despite the fact that 60% of the organisations polled admit they are having problems getting the employees they need from traditional sources while more than 90% of employers believe that recruitment is going to get harder and competition more stiff in the next few years.
The bulk of employers are obviously tempted to turn a blind eye to the problem in the hope that it will go away.
After all, the new regulations banning discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and sexual orientation haven't led to a torrent of employment tribunal cases so far.
But to take a complacent attitude on that basis would be a serious mistake.
The Employers Forum on Age estimates that 14% of UK employees have been the victim of age-related discrimination in the workplace and if they all exercised their rights under the new legislation, British businesses would be facing damages worth £73bn.
More likely, but potentially even more damaging in the long term, talented individuals will simply walk away from those employers that are obviously not getting their house in order.
There's still time to act: the Employers Forum on Age has a wealth of material on its website to help employers prepare for the new regime ( and the Department for Work and Pensions' Age Positive campaign is also a rich source of advice and guidance ( You can't say you haven't been warned!
¦ Steve Crabb is editor of People Management