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Age discrimination: do you know your rights

Arbitration service Acas recently published new guidance on recognising age discrimination in the workplace. Here, we take a look at how discrimination based on an employee’s age can be prevented.

Age discrimination: an overview

Age discrimination, or ageism, is defined as treating someone unfairly because of their age. The Equality Act 2010 includes provisions that ban discrimination against people of any age. The ban took effect from 1 October 2012, and means it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age, unless an employer can provide a good reason for differential treatment.

Instances in which age discrimination could occur

Employers should take care to minimise the chances of age discrimination occurring in the workplace. However, a handful of instances exist which could give rise to age discrimination, and employers should be aware of these:

  • During the recruitment process: age discrimination could occur at any stage of the recruitment process. Within a job advert, an employer might want to outline the skills or type of experience needed, as opposed to asking for a certain number of years’ experience.
  • During the training or promotion process: when referring workers for training programmes or considering them for promotion, employers should cast any assumptions from their minds. Acas advises employers to not make assumptions about an employee’s ambitions based on their age or length of service.
  • During an appraisal: employers are encouraged to conduct staff appraisals without preconceptions about an employee’s age. All employees must be treated equally, and should not be engaged in discussion about the possibility of them retiring.  
  • In managing performance: employers must not ignore employees’ poor performance because of their age. Employers are encouraged to give an employee a fair chance of performing to an acceptable standard, regardless of their age.
  • When an employee retires: an employer must not assume an employee is retiring; suggest they retire; or force them to retire.

Understanding your rights

Employees are advised to ensure that they understand their rights, and to make use of the options available to them, should age discrimination occur. Employers must take responsibility to ensure that workers are not discriminated against. Employees who feel they have been treated unfairly are able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. Typically, employees must make their claim within three months of the issue occurring, or their employment ending. In the event that a case goes to a tribunal, employees may wish to seek legal advice.

For more information on workplace rights, please visit the Acas website.