Ageism in the Workplace

By Andrew Willis
14 Oct 2021

Could age discrimination claims affect your business? It might happen more often than you’d expect. Age discrimination in the workplace statistics highlight it as a reoccurring problem. According to research from Stop Ageism,  over 40% employees in their 50s have experienced age discrimination in the UK.

Our experts can help you minimise the risk of discrimination occurring and leading to tribunal claims. Call a Croner expert today to help you prevent any such risks, on 01455 858 132.

Croner’s age discrimination in the workplace guide

We have put this guide together to provide better understanding of when you could potentially face claims of discrimination against age in the workplace.

Whether in the recruitment or redundancy process, it looks like old age still negatively impacts workers. With an aging population, you need to recognise and discourage any such occurrences.  Young employees can also be victims of discrimination in an ever-changing employment market. Surveys find age discrimination against youth in the workplace prevalent in job adverts, job promotion and wage levels.

Let’s start by understanding what age discrimination is, and the different types of discrimination that can occur.

Age discrimination in the workplace

What is age discrimination?

Age discrimination is when an employee is treated unfairly or less favourably because of their age. The Equality Act 2010 identifies age as one of the nine protected characteristics in the UK.

Distinguishing between types of age discrimination in the workplace will help to see the bigger picture:

  • Direct age discrimination
    When an employer refuses to promote staff due to their age, they are directly discriminating.
  • Indirect age discrimination
    If you require candidates to have a certain number of years in the industry when they apply for a job, this will exclude applicants of a certain age.
  • Harassment
    Offensive jokes against somebody’s age fall in this category. Another example is targeting a colleague or employee with constant criticism due to their age.
  • Victimisation
    This happens when an individual targets a staff member who supported a colleague’s claim of discrimination and subjects them to negative treatment.

In terms of legislation, is there an Age Discrimination in Employment Act in the UK?

The answer is simply no. The Equality Act 2010 refers to all instances of discrimination against the nine protected characteristics.

What are the signs of age discrimination in the workplace?

Let’s talk next about how you can recognise when any of your employees faces age discrimination at work. Remember, even if you are doing everything right as an employer, your staff could target a colleague. Instances of harassment and victimisation still put you at risk of tribunal claims. You need to identify, acknowledge, and discourage any such occurrences.

First, consider how you, as an employer, might find yourself inadvertently discriminating against your employees.

Check your records of who got promoted within your business over the last few years. Do staff in their 50s or early 20s get regularly skipped?

Can you identify a significant and unjustified wage gap between age groups?
Compare wages of staff with similar levels of qualification and work performance. If you find that younger or older employees are paid less than, say, staff in their 40s, you have a problem on your hands.

Age discrimination act

Next, discourage any age-based exclusion or name calling in the work environment. Make it clear to employees they should not call anybody “young” or “old” or make age-based assumptions.

Excluding a colleague from a friendly football match after work, because they are “too old”, also qualifies as discrimination. Equally, constantly dismissing a recent graduate’s suggestions or concerns because they are “too young” constitutes discrimination. Emails inviting everybody but said older employee, or lack of response to a younger person’s work-related suggestions, could stand as evidence of age discrimination in the workplace.

Old age discrimination in the workplace

Recruitment and redundancy tend to be two major employment aspects where age discrimination occurs.

When advertising jobs, use of age-related wording that can lead to claims of discrimination. Avoid saying things like “the candidate must be youthful and enthusiastic”, “energetic and fun”, “dynamic”, as they can be discriminatory against mature applicants.

How many adverts do we see on employment websites that mention “looking for recent graduates”? Unless employers can prove valid business-related reasons for this, they should not use such wordings.

Age discrimination uk

Equally, ensure you follow the redundancy process to the letter of the law. If your business in struggling and you either need to reduce your workforce, or restructure it, check what other solutions you have. Keep the bigger picture in mind and offer alternatives to your older staff before you consider them for redundancy. Hiring new, young employees after you have made your older workforce redundant could lead your business into trouble.

Young age discrimination in the workplace

Not surprisingly, young people find themselves discriminated against in job adverts.

How many such ads mention that applicants “must have 4 years experience”? Mentioning any number of years in the field, or on a similar role, will automatically exclude younger candidates. Instead, point out what kind of experience and knowledge the job role requires. It does come down to candidates’ capability rather than years of low standard work in the industry.

Avoid asking for “mature” or “experienced” candidates, as this also sounds discriminatory. Use words such as “reliable”, “organised” and “can work on own initiative”.

When it comes to promotions, inform all employees of such opportunities. If the information is only made available to older employees, it will leave younger staff out. They could then claim age discrimination in the workplace.

Check this article that includes further examples of age discrimination in the workplace, for details over situations that you should avoid.

Encourage inclusion in the workplace

Most UK companies today will have an equality and diversity policy in the workplace. On its own, this won’t stop discrimination from occurring. So, a question remains:

“How can I actively encourage inclusion and discourage discrimination?”

Start by taking these steps:

  • Ensure you and your employees understand the different types of age discrimination in the workplace.
  • Train your managers and staff to recognise and discourage instances of discrimination.
  • Apply best practices in writing job adverts and conducting job interviews.
  • Remember to also look at staff retention and retraining, two workplace aspects where discrimination is more likely to occur.

Talk to a Croner expert

In the above guide, we highlighted how age discrimination is most likely to occur. You might face different circumstances, particularly of subtle age discrimination in the workplace. Don’t wait until you have a tribunal claim on your hands.

Our Croner employment law experts will help you with any queries and concerns about age discrimination in the workplace in the UK. Give us a call today so we can help you address any discrimination related issues.

Call us today on 01455 858 132


About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.





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