Most employers will know that age is one of nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, meaning it us unlawful to treat a member of staff any less favourably as a result. Despite this, age discrimination still occurs which has led to ACAS releasing guidance on how to prevent this at work.
To counteract age discrimination employers are encouraged to develop a culture of inclusivity at work. Employers can lay down the groundwork for this by ensuring appropriate policies are in place, such as an equal opportunities policy which outlines a company’s commitment to treating all staff fairly and protect them from prejudice. As well as having policies in place, employers should reinforce this message by educating staff on acceptable conduct and explaining that banter which focuses on someone’s age is unlikely to qualify as an excuse for discriminatory behaviour.
Whilst policies and education are useful measures it is ultimately important for employers to put this into practice, with the first opportunity for this being during the recruitment stage. ACAS’ most recent guidance suggests that employers review their current recruitment practices and remove any unnecessary requirements, or ageist language, from job adverts which may inadvertently rule out applicants of a certain age. Interviewers should also be trained on how to avoid asking discriminatory questions and how unconscious bias can impact decision making.
ACAS also encourage employers not to allow stereotypical thinking or assumptions about age to creep into decisions around training or promotion opportunities. Employers should be treating all staff equally, regardless of their age, and avoid any unhelpful stereotypes about individuals’ capabilities or career ambitions. For example, it would be inappropriate to assume that there is more value in training younger workers than older staff, or alternatively that younger staff would automatically lack the commitment for more senior roles. To ensure this, employers are encouraged to develop a clear and transparent framework when it comes to deciding on training and progression.
Age can also play a role when assessing and managing workplace performance, with ACAS asking employers to approach staff appraisals without any preconceptions regarding age. Employers are also encouraged to treat all staff consistently when managing their performance and setting future goals, avoiding the temptation to overlook certain performance matters on account of an individual’s age.
Retirement is another area where age discrimination can occur and employers are reminded to avoid asking staff unnecessary questions about their retirement plans or putting pressure on them to retire. At the same time if an employee does announce their intention to retire employers must not treat them any less favourably or exclude them from accessing their statutory rights.
Ultimately, employers will need to incorporate a multifaceted approach to address age discrimination and ensure equality remains at the forefront of their HR practices.