Last updated: May 23, 2023
Age discrimination in the workplace
With people living and working longer, we are now seeing workplaces with workers of all age groups working alongside one another. However, with this comes the potential of age discrimination (also known as ageism) – where someone is treated less favourably because of their age.
What does the law say?
People who experience age discrimination are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Note: Under the Equality Act 2010, there is an exception which applies only to age discrimination. Employers can make decisions based on someone’s age, if they can prove their decision was objectively justified and proportionate.
Different types of age discrimination
It is vital to understand the different types of age discrimination so that you know what your rights are under the Equality Act 2010. They are as follows:
- Direct discrimination – When you are treated less favourably because of your age, you are associated with someone of a certain age, or when someone thinks you are a certain age.
- Indirect discrimination – When a practice, policy or rule applies to everyone, but puts people who from certain age groups at a disadvantage.
- Harassment – When you experience unwanted behaviour because of your age that either violates your dignity or has created a hostile work environment.
- Victimisation – When you are treated differently or less favourably because you are involved with an age discrimination or harassment complaint.
Whose responsibility is it to deal with discrimination?
Your employer has a responsibility to protect employees, workers, contractors, the self-employed and job applicants from age discrimination and they must take steps to prevent it from happening.
Your employer is also responsible for the wellbeing of their employees. If an employer is unsupportive of an employee who experiences discrimination at work because of their age, they could be in breach of their employment contract, and could even face charges for constructive dismissal.
Employers also have a duty of care to ensure that employees aren’t disadvantaged at work because of their age.
Employers should take any complaints of age discrimination and any following investigations seriously.
Who can experience ageism?
People of all ages regularly experience age discrimination. This could be from a younger person being overlooked on a promotion because they’re deemed “too young, thus would be inexperienced”, to an older person being excluded from workplace activities because they’re “too old to fit in”.
If you experience discrimination at work, this can be from anyone you encounter because of your job, including:
- Your employer, manager, or anyone else who is in a position of authority at your place of work.
- A member of the public like a client, customer, or member.
It is your employer’s responsibility to take steps to prevent age discrimination from happening and act when it does occur.
What constitutes at age discrimination?
Age discrimination can occur in person or online via email, social media, or messaging apps. This can occur as a one-off incident, or regularly. This can take on many forms, ranging from obvious ageism to less obvious interactions. The following can constitute:
- Making inappropriate comments about a person’s age.
- Telling jokes which are offensive to certain age groups.
- Putting people of certain ages ahead of others.
- Viewing people of certain ages as inferior
- Bullying someone because of their age.
- Using ageist language.
- Hiring an employee over another because of their age.
- Refusing to hire people of certain age groups.
- Enacting workplace policies that unfairly disadvantage people of certain age groups.
- Refusing to promote someone because of their age.
- Making a worker redundant because of their age.
Even if the perpetrator of the discrimination considers their behaviour to be a joke, it is still classified as age discrimination if their behaviour is:
- Of a discriminatory nature.
- Violating yours or someone else’s dignity or creates an intimidating or degrading environment at work.
Discrimination typically directed at an individual or group of individuals, but some workplaces can normalise a culture of age discrimination e.g., discriminatory inappropriate “banter” between colleagues. You can still make a complaint of discrimination in this situation.
Ageism and recruitment
When a job is being advertised, employers cannot restrict candidates because of their age, and shouldn’t use words to suggest they are looking for applicants of specific ages.
It is perfectly legal for a potential employer to ask for an applicant’s date of birth.
Employers should not use age as a deciding factor when choosing a candidate for a job – unless their decision is objectively justified and proportionate to the work you would be expected to undertake.
Age discrimination and retirement
Compulsory retirement is a form of discrimination – employers cannot force an employee to retire at any age unless specified in a contract that can be objectively justified.
I am facing age discrimination at work. What do I do?
If you are the target of age discrimination at work, we recommend you do the following:
- Speak to your union (us!) or your union rep.
- Make a complaint to your employer (remember, it is their legal duty to protect your wellbeing at work).
- Keep a note of any instances of discrimination, including dates/times or witnesses.
- Speak up – don’t be afraid to challenge prejudice and confront age discrimination at work if you feel safe to do so.
How do I make a complaint?
We would first advise that you speak with your trade union rep to receive support when making a formal complaint about being the victim of discrimination at work.
Your employer may have their own discrimination policy to deal with any age discrimination in the workplace, so you should follow that procedure to raise a grievance.
Where do I find my workplace's policy on discrimination?
This should be in the same place your workplace houses all your workplace policy on discrimination.
This should be somewhere easily accessible such as a staff handbook or company intranet.
It should outline how your employer deals with discrimination complaints and who to send your complaint to.
My complaint is not being dealt with. What can I do?
If you have raised a formal grievance or the problem has not been resolved, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. You should inform Community immediately if you intend to do this as our legal team may be able to provide advice and support you through this process.
I have witnessed age discrimination at work. What should I do?
If you witness age discrimination at work, we will always recommend that if you feel safe to do so, speak out against it. No one should feel afraid to confront ageism in the workplace and by speaking out, you may also encourage other employees, and your employer to contribute to a more inclusive work environment.
Following an incident of ageism, you can:
- Support any complaints made by the victim.
- Report the incident to your trade union rep and/or employer.
- Make a discrimination complaint yourself if the incident has created an intimidating or degrading environment at work.
- Keep a note of any instances of ageism, including dates/times or witnesses.
- Talk to the victim to see if they want your support.
- Become a Community Equalities Rep and help us fight against age discrimination across the UK.
If you need help or advice, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0800 389 6332.
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