Avoiding Age Discrimination in Employment

Age discrimination in employment became unlawful on 1st October 2006.

Age is one of the last major forms of discrimination at work to be tackled at law but, unlike gender, race or disability, ageing affects everyone. Consequently, the introduction of age discrimination legislation means that employers will have to change workplace arrangements, attitudes to recruitment, promotion, access to training, retirement and redundancy.

Age discrimination law operates in broadly the same way as other types of discrimination law, prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation on grounds of age. However, unlike in other kinds of discrimination, employers will be able to justify, objectively, both direct and indirect discrimination. Protection will be provided to employees of all ages; there will be no exclusions for small employers. The legislation covers employees and others including self-employed people, office holders and contract workers.

Remedies for age discrimination are the same as for other forms of unlawful discrimination – there will be no cap on compensation; an award for injury to feelings may be made.

Mindful of the above, what practical steps should an employer be taking to avoid non-compliance and potentially expensive tribunal cases?

  • Review all employment documentation, practices and procedures, for example, recruitment procedures, contracts, staff handbooks, the provision of employment benefits, training, promotion and redundancy procedures. If age is taken into account in any of the above, consider whether an exemption applies or if it can be objectively justified.
  • Consider the contractual, customary or “normal” retirement age. Where the retirement age is currently below 65, it will need to be changed, if it cannot be justified.
  • Formulate retirement policy and procedure.
  • Ensure that those involved in decision-making are aware of the impact of the Regulations, to ensure compliance, particularly those individuals involved in dealing with recruitment and retirement.
  • Ensure that managers are trained on the impact of age discrimination legislation. For example, tackle harassment relating to age by training managers and employees.
  • Make it clear that harassment on grounds of age will not be tolerated.
  • Employers who have enhanced redundancy schemes should review those schemes to ensure that any discriminatory factors are removed.
  • Do not make decisions based on age which cannot be objectively justified.