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Small businesses put themselves at risk by flouting age discrimination changes

Thursday 12 April 2007

Six months on and only 17% of businesses have adopted recruitment and employment changes.

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Small businesses are risking employment disputes as they fail to make changes to their employment policies following age discrimination legislation introduced in October 2006. The findings come from new research by Acas, Britain's leading employment relations organisation.

The survey, which polled 750 small businesses, reveals that only 17% of them have introduced changes to their employment and recruitment practices. Respondents said that they had not made changes because they believe their organisations already comply or that the regulations do not apply to their business.

Acas Chair Rita Donaghy said:

"These results are worrying as they highlight a potential cost timebomb in smaller companies in terms of potential tribunal cases, because the age laws have not been considered. Age discrimination can affect all employees, young and old and to comply can be very simple and quick.

We are urging businesses to act now, helping them to put in place policies that minimise the risk of prosecution and to make employment decisions on the basis of talent and skills alone."

Key findings include:

Knowledge gap

  • Two-thirds of employers in the survey thought that they were fairly or very well informed about the age discrimination regulations.
  • However under 30% of all the employers in the survey gave a correct response to a question about whether it is still lawful to have an age at which employees are expected to retire.

No change

  • Only 17% have made some change to their recruitment or employment practices in response to the regulations. Organisations employing fewer than 10 people were the least likely to have made any changes in response to the new law: only 6% had done so.

Previous discrimination

  • Less than 20% of SMEs reported some differential treatment of employees as a result of age, prior to the introduction of the regulations.
  • For them age had be a consideration at least some of the time in handling recruitment, retirement or other aspects of employment policy or practice.
  • One in 10 SMEs in the survey had previously treated people differently on the basis of age and had NOT made changes to their practices in response to the regulations.

Lack of concern

  • Only a small minority of SMEs (8%) were somewhat or very concerned about the implications of the Regulations for their organisation.

Acas has over 30 years' expertise in good employment practice. Its guidance - Age and the workplace - is available free online from the Acas website. If employers or employees need further help, they can call the helpline on 08457 47 47 47 for free confidential advice or register online for one of Acas' training courses, which are available throughout Britain.

The employer guidance covers the key issues, including training, equal opportunities, recruitment, promotion, performance appraisals, sickness pay, conditions, benefits, redundancy, pensions and retirement. It will help employers to recognise that being age-positive is a business advantage, not just a legal requirement.

There are some simple steps that companies can take to overcome age bias in the workplace:

  • Recruitment advertisements - avoid specifying length of experience as this disadvantages certain age groups
  • Application forms - ask for date of birth on monitoring forms only and use skills based forms
  • Selection procedures - train managers to avoid stereotypes
  • Training - make sure it is open to all employees
  • Performance appraisal - set the same standards regardless of age
  • Redundancy policy - review your policies: using length of service to select employees for redundancy is likely to be discriminatory
  • Equality policy - add age to your current policy.

Notes to editors

1. Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and employer, trade union and independent members.

2. Acas guidance can be downloaded free of charge from the Acas website ( pdf icon Age and the workplace: a guide for employers and employees [336kb] 

For press enquiries please contact Charlotte Hart or William Spratt on 020 7072 4238/4061.