​​​​​​​Age discrimination and equality at work

Here we explain what things count as age discrimination and how the law protects individuals from age discrimination at work.

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What is the law on age discrimination?

Individuals of any age are protected by law from age discrimination at work.

The law giving workers in England, Wales and Scotland protection from age discrimination is called the Equality Act 2010. There is a separate but similar law in Northern Ireland.

It is against the law to force someone to retire at 65 or any other age fixed by the employer without objective justification.

The law protects all types of worker including contract workers, temporary workers, casual staff and self-employed workers where they are personally engaged to do the work. It also covers job applicants.

Workers inside and outside the NHS are covered by this law.

Are young people protected from discrimination?

The legal protection against age discrimination covers people of any age.

Age discrimination at work can occur across all age groups but is more common in the younger and older age ranges, particularly under 25 and over 50.

There are stereotypical notions about the abilities of different age groups. But research suggests that most of these are myths, and that the differences between people of the same age are more pronounced than the differences between people of different age groups.

What things count as age discrimination in law?

The types of employer conduct that might be considered age discrimination under the law range from the more obvious – turning someone down for a job because of their age or assumed age, for example – to procedures that indirectly disadvantage people of a certain age group.

The most obvious form of unlawful age discrimination is when the employer treats someone less favourably than they would treat someone of a difference age. This is direct discrimination.

An employer doesn’t have to know someone’s precise age to be guilty of direct age discrimination.

An example could be a recruitment advert that implies people of a certain age are more welcome.

Unlike with other areas of discrimination, an employer can in some cases justify direct age discrimination if they have a 'legitimate aim' in doing so.

An employer might be guilty of indirect discrimination if it has a way of operating that works to the disadvantage of a certain age group.

An example would be insisting on a work pattern that could disproportionately affect people of an age to have childcare commitments.

Age-related harassment can also be unlawful discrimination and covers behaviour that creates a degrading or humiliating environment, such as making comments that associate older people with incompetence or younger people with irresponsibility.

If an employer treats someone differently because they have previously complained about age discrimination, they may be guilty of unlawful discrimination in the form of victimisation.

Can employers give special help to older or younger workers?

An employer can target a people in certain age group for training or special encouragement if that group is disadvantaged because of their age.

For example, they could target older workers for IT training to help them access roles if they lack those skills.

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