employment law

Age Discrimination - an age old problem?

What you need to know about ageism in the workplace

In the UK we’re living and working for longer.

But older people should not be treated differently from their younger counterparts or be put at a disadvantage in the workplace.

From recruitment and promotions to training and dismissals, the law protects people from age discrimination, or ageism as it is also known.

Age is just a number

Age Discrimination Act 2006

Legislation protecting people from ageism has evolved over the years.

In October 2006, the Age Discrimination Act 2006 was introduced, making it unlawful for employers and others to discriminate against someone because of his or her age.

The Equality Act 2010

The regulations introduced in the Age Discrimination Act 2006 were also incorporated into the Equality Act 2010, which came into effect in October of that year.

As well as protecting people at work, the law also makes sure people are not badly, less favourably treated or disadvantaged by further and higher education organisations (such as colleges and universities), trade bodies, clubs and associations.

The Equality Act also makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of the age of others they may associate, for example an elderly relative or a young child.

On top of this, from 1 October 2011, the default retirement age was scrapped, making it illegal to force people to retire just because they have reached 65 years old.

Different forms of ageism

There are a number of ways people could be affected by age discrimination or ageism in the workplace.

If someone is treated less favourably because of their age, for example if overlooked for a promotion because they are ‘too old’, this is known as direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination, on the other hand, is when someone is put at a disadvantage because of age-based exclusions – such as those which relate to job criteria. This could happen if an employer is looking for a ‘recent graduate’ to fill a new role as, arguably, this could exclude older people.

Ageism can also take the form of harassment, which is when jokes or comments about a colleague’s age – or someone they are associated with, such as their partner – makes them feel intimated, humiliated or degraded.

The law also protects people who stand up for their rights. If someone has previously made a complaint in relation to the Equality Act 2010 and is treated unfairly because of this, this could be classified as victimisation.

It is also unlawful to encourage someone else to discriminate against a person in the workplace because of their age, and this is known as instruction to discriminate.

Finally, it is illegal to help someone in an act of ageism, as this would be aiding discrimination.

Not always so clear cut

There are a number of exceptions to the points outlined above.

For example, it may be possible to justify direct or indirect discrimination if it can be proved that someone of a particular age is required to carry out a role.

Employers are also normally able to keep age-based rules in their pension schemes, as well as calculating redundancy payments based on age and time spent at the company.

If employers provide their team with life assurance, they could discontinue it for a member of staff if they have retired due to poor health and have reached the normal retirement age. However, they would not be able to refuse an employee life cover because of their age.

When things go wrong

An accusation of ageism in the workplace should be treated as a dispute or grievance, and employers will usually have written guidelines of how these are to be handled.

It is always worth trying to discuss the problem and sort it out informally first, but if this is not possible or a solution cannot be reached then the employee could take a claim for discrimination to an employment tribunal.

Both employers and employees can seek legal advice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) or one of our solicitors who specialises in employment law.

Employees can also get help from the Citizens Advice Bureau or their trade union representative.

We can help

If you have a query relating to ageism or any other employment issues, please contact Daniel Zakis or Alison Willis at Wallace Robinson & Morgan solicitors in Solihull.

You can contact Daniel and Alison on 0121 705 7571 or

email danielzakis@wallacerobinson.co.uk or alisonwillis@wallacerobinson.co.uk

This article is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute technical, financial, legal advice or any other type of professional advice and is no substitute for specific advice based on your individual circumstances. We do not accept responsibility or liability for any actions taken based on the information in this article. For more information, please click here.