A 2019 European study found that 38% of UK employees face discrimination at work. This is higher than any other country in Europe.
Discrimination against any protected characteristic such as gender, disability or race is unlawful. This includes discrimination against age in the workplace.
In this guide, we’ll explain what age discrimination is, when it might occur and detail the penalties you could face if you treat staff unfairly because of their age.
What is age discrimination in the workplace?
Age discrimination, commonly called ageism, is where an employee faces unfair treatment due to their age.
The protected characteristic of age protects employees from unfair treatment for:
- Their age.
- The age they are thought to be.
- Generalisations about people their age.
Discrimination because of age can impact any member of staff, including both the young and old.
Age discrimination law in the UK
The age discrimination act was first introduced as part of an EU Directive in 2000.
This was extended in the UK with the Employment Equality Regulation in 2006, and replaced again in 2010 with the Equality Act.
Different types of age discrimination in the workplace
Age discrimination in UK business can occur at different stages of the employment cycle.
Those stages include:
Below, we’ll provide age discrimination examples in each of these categories.
There are a few ways that recruitment practices could be seen as ageist.
For example, your hiring process could be discriminatory if the job specification requires candidates to have a number of years of experience.
Doing so makes younger applicants ineligible for roles they could be perfect for. Instead ask for a necessary skill level.
The recruitment process can also be unfair to older applicants. Managers can look for employees who will stay with the company. Some will disregard applicants that are close to retirement age.
Rejecting somebody, for this reason, is discrimination and could result in the applicant taking legal action.
Receiving training is a vital way for employees to increase their knowledge and progress in their careers.
Employers and managers decide who should receive certain training. It’s important that there is no bias in the selection process.
Withholding training from older employees because you think it is more beneficial to train a younger employee is unfair. You also can’t deny training to older staff because you don’t think they will be able to do it at their age.
It’s fair to deny training if there’s a genuine concern that an employee couldn’t complete the task. This must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis rather than assumed about all people of a certain age.
There isn’t a default retirement age for most jobs anymore. This means the employee decides when they want to stop working. In most cases, this is determined by the date their pension becomes available.
Despite this, employees can choose to keep working after they reach pension age.
Making assumptions about when an employee will retire is age discrimination. Employers can’t withhold opportunities from workers who are close to their retirement age. It’s also unlawful to suggest an employee retire or try to force them to.
When making a reduction in force, age discrimination can occur in the selection process and enhanced redundancy pay calculation.
Many businesses consider a “last in, first out” approach when laying off staff. This approach can be unfair to younger employees as they are more likely to be the last ones to join.
Instead, your redundancy selection process should be based on a list of criteria for you to review each employee's performance fairly.
The amount staff receive if you offer enhanced redundancy pay can also be ageist.
Enhanced redundancy pay is an additional sum of money provided to staff that are made redundant. Your business will need to decide how to calculate the rate of enhanced pay.
Redundancy pay age discrimination could occur if you based your calculation on how long someone has been with your company. This would be unfair to young employees, as they likely haven’t been with you for very long.
Penalties for age discrimination
If an employee feels that you have discriminated against them because of their age, they can take you to an employment tribunal.
This can happen whether they are still an employee or if they believe they have been dismissed unfairly because of their age.
The penalties can include any loss of earnings and awards for injury to feelings.
The Court of Appeals state that compensation for discrimination could be unlimited.
Expert support on discrimination with Peninsula
Age discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional. It’s common for people to carry unconscious biases about different groups. As an employer, it’s important to acknowledge your own biases and ensure that your workplace practices aren’t influenced by them.
Failing to provide an inclusive place of work will impact employee happiness, staff retention and could lead to costly penalties if you’re taken to a tribunal.
Get our HR experts to draft inclusive policies for you. Peninsula clients get access to HR advice 24/7. Speak with specialists on the correct steps to take whether you’re reviewing process, making staff changes or facing unfair dismissal claims.
And if you’re not yet a client, you can still enjoy a free advice call. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420