Age Discrimination In The Workplace

The Equality Act clearly states that no one can or should be treated unfairly or denied any type of opportunity only because they are above or below a certain age or they belong to a certain age group. In the workplace this means you cannot be denied a job, training or promotion simply because of your age.

Discriminating against an employee or prospective employee only because they are ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ is against the Act and considered to be illegal. Anyone who is subjected to this unfair treatment because of their age is considered to be a victim of age discrimination.

The Equality Act recognises four distinct categories of age discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination – If you are denied promotion because you are ‘too old’ or you are denied a raise because you are ‘too young’, these constitute direct discrimination.
  • Indirect discrimination – If a training course is offered only to recent graduates, it could constitute indirect discrimination, as it does not allow older employees to avail of the opportunity.
  • Harassment – Offensive jokes or comments about your age or the age of someone you associate with, such as a partner, could amount to harassment, which is a form of age discrimination.
  • Victimisation – If you are passed over for a promotion or raise that was due to you simply because you supported a colleague’s complaint of age discrimination, that could be regarded as unlawful victimisation.

Age Discrimination In The Workplace

What is important to know is that the Equality Act protects you from age discrimination in all aspects, from the recruitment stage to the employment terms and conditions, training, promotions, transfers and dismissals.

Understanding your rights at each stage will help you determine whether you are being discriminated against simply because of your age.

The recruitment process –

It is unlawful to be refused a job because you are too young or too old. The employer may ask for your age at the recruitment stage (for example to check that you are above 18) but this information cannot be used to discriminate against you.

It would be illegal for an employer to impose an upper or lower age limit during the recruitment process, unless the age restriction has been mandated by law or can be ‘objectively justified’.

Employment terms and conditions –

Employment terms and conditions must remain the same for all employees irrespective of their age. It is unlawful to have different sets of terms and conditions for employers from different age groups. If you are made to sign terms that are different from the other employees who have the same portfolio as you, you should recognise this as age discrimination.

Training –

It is against the law for any type of training provider to lay down upper or lower age limits for training, unless the need to do so can be objectively justified. If you qualify for any type of higher training that is being offered by an employer, private or public training body or higher educational institution, you cannot be denied an equal opportunity because you are above or below a certain age.

Promotions and transfers –

In any workplace, the policies regarding promotions and transfers are applicable equally to all employees, irrespective of how old they are. If you are eligible for a promotion or transfer, age cannot and should not be used as a deterrent.

Dismissal and redundancy procedures –

According to the Equality Act, a company’s redundancy policy should not directly or indirectly discriminate against younger or older workers. You are entitled to any statutory or contractual redundancy pay irrespective of your age.

There should be no upper or lower age limit for redundancy pay entitlement. You are entitled to get paid the legal minimum redundancy payment whether you are under 18 or above 75.

Retirement rights –

Earlier, 65 was considered the default retirement age. That was abolished in 2011. Today, companies cannot set a blanket compulsory retirement age for their employees. The retirement age is when an employee chooses to retire.  An employer can only ask you to retire if they feel you are no longer performing at the level that you are expected to and if retirement is the only reasonable alternative.

Can There Be A ‘Good Reason’ For Age Discrimination?

The law does not specifically define ‘good reason’ for justifying discrimination. However, there are certain circumstances when discrimination may be allowed.

Take a look at these examples where employees may be justifiably denied employment because of their age.

  1. Age can play a major role in a warehouse or construction site job that entails a lot of manual work and lifting. If a prospective employee is denied the job either partially or wholly due to their age, it would not be considered age discrimination as age does bring with it physical limitations.
  2. Age can also play a major role when hiring employees in bars and nightclubs. While 16 year olds may legally be able to work, they are not permitted to sell alcohol, which would restrict them from fulfilling their tasks. In this case too, age discrimination would be justified.
  3. If previous experience is a mandatory requirement of the job, this would exclude new graduates, who are otherwise qualified to do the job. This would only be considered justified in certain workplaces such as healthcare and legal settings where experience can make a substantial difference in the quality of services provided. In other settings, employers have to be reasonable with regards to the amount of experience necessary.

Your Options If You Think You Are A Victim Of Age Discrimination

If you have experienced discrimination because of your age, there are steps you can take to rectify the situation. The first step would be to discuss this informally with your employer. If this discussion does not provide a satisfactory resolution, you could choose to escalate the complaint through the company’s internal grievance procedure.

Your final option would be to file an age discriminate complaint. This has to be done within 3 months of the date that the age discrimination occurred.