The government is planning on introducing new rules which are designed to give employers the power to have “frank discussions” with staff without fear of facing workplace discrimination claims.

This will include talks on underperformance as well as discussions over whether or not an employee should consider retirement.

The plans were announced by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as he visited a hi-tech firm in Shoreditch, London, this week.

He said that business secretary Vince Cable will be announcing new employment law proposals which will include the introduction of “protected conversations”.

“Employers tell us they’re afraid to have frank discussions with staff … for fear of those exchanges being used against them unfairly, should a dispute end up at tribunal,” said Mr Clegg.

“We want to give them the confidence to be open about performance, about retirement with their employees. If you speak to many employers, they value older workers massively. I don’t think there is some sort of in-built prejudice against older workers at all.”

However, some have argued that the changes, which come alongside a raft of measures introduced by the government with the aim of cutting red tape for businesses, will make it easier for employers to get away with discrimination in the workplace.

“It would give a licence to bad employers to bully and intimidate staff,” commented TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

Meanwhile, Mr Clegg said the government will also be looking at ways to cut down the number of workplace inspections conducted by organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive, suggesting a limit of two inspections a year for small businesses.

“This is another example of the government putting the right to make a fast buck before our health and safety and our lives,” argued Mr Barber.

“Regulation is there to protect us all from businesses that rip us off, trash our environment, and risk our health – or even our lives.”