Age discrimination

16 April 2019

There are many forms of discrimination in the workplace and Irish law prohibits a number of specific forms of discrimination at work.

There are nine specific grounds set out in the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 that protect employees against discrimination.

While there is no Age Discrimination Act in Ireland, age is one of the protected grounds set out in the employment equality legislation.

With nearly a fifth of the Irish workforce now aged 55 or over, the risk of ageism and age discrimination having damaging effects on employees and businesses is particularly high.

You can learn about this by calling us on 0818 923 923.

There’s also our call back form you can use for any issues relating to discrimination—we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

You can find out about anti-discrimination laws in this guide, along with how to prevent age discrimination from occurring.

What is age discrimination in the workplace?

It’s when an employer treats someone unfairly due to their age.  

Discrimination against age in the workplace is a serious issue that can result in an age discrimination claim being lodged in the Workplace Relations Commission. So it’s important to treat all of your employees—and job candidates—fairly.

It’s important to keep in mind that ageism isn’t only about discrimination against old age. It affects all ages.

In most instances of age discrimination, younger employees and older ones are most likely to experience unfair treatment.

However, it can occur to anyone—the age gap between employees can now range up to 50 years, which increases the risk of age discrimination occurring in your workplace.

As with any form of discrimination, it’s important your business remains compliant with current Irish laws to keep staff morale high and to avoid any legal ramifications.

How to prevent age discrimination

Age discrimination is illegal under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015.

As such, your business can’t treat an individual unfavourably due to how old they are. If you do, then it’s unlawful.

Remember, this law applies to an individual above the age to attend school—that’s 16.

The best way to avoid ageism at work is to understand the issue. Consider your recruitment strategy and audit your process to ensure candidates of all ages have equal opportunities to apply to any of your roles.

Job age discrimination is a common issue that businesses can fall foul of, often without any intentional bias—they forget to mention that all ages can apply and instead make it look like only younger or older people can.

So, you can refer to your hiring policy to start the process.

You can also check your business-wide procedures to make sure you don’t have anything in place that may treat an employee unfavourably. That includes:

  • Age discrimination in recruitment.
  • Training and promotional activities.
  • Performance management.
  • Underperformance and KPI management.
  • Retirement policies.

You should judge a person based on their performance alone, rather than discriminatory issues such as their age, background, religious beliefs, or nationality.

If it’s clear you did breach the current Irish law, then it can result in a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission—that can be very costly and damaging for your business.

Examples of ageism in the workplace

For clarity, you can refer to the below instances to understand how the different types of age discrimination may affect your business:

  • Hiring a younger job candidate over an older one simply due to their age.
  • Advertising a job that explains you have a “young team” looking for similar candidates—that’s age discrimination during the recruitment process.
  • Refusing to hire young employees as you expect they’ll move on quickly.
  • Offering training opportunities to younger employees, but not to older ones.
  • Disparaging comments about age, whether a staff member is too young or too old.
  • Handing raises and promotions to older employees, rather than younger ones who are just as competent.

An indirect age discrimination example would be a mandatory retirement age.

If your business has a mandatory retirement age, it will only be lawful if it can be objectively justified.

The mandatory retirement age will be objectively justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate business aim.

Some legitimate business aims include:

  • Intergenerational fairness and motivation – to allow for the promotion of younger workers.
  • Health & safety considerations.
  • Creating a balanced age structure across the workforce.
  • Dignity considerations – to avoid capability issues.
  • Succession planning

The Workplace Relations Commission has published a Code of Practice on Longer Working to help employers handle employees who are approaching traditional retirement ages.

The best approach your business can have it to remain vigilant in your approach to age discrimination in employment to ensure you provide a fair working environment.

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