The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of age. For example, this may include because they are 'younger' or 'older' than a relevant and comparable employee.
View or download the Acas guide on Age and the workplace: a guide for employers and employees [336kb].
There are four main types of age discrimination.
Breaks down into three different sorts of direct discrimination of treating someone 'less favourably' because of:
- their actual age (direct discrimination)
- their perceived age (direct discrimination by perception)
- the age of someone with whom they associate (direct discrimination by association).
Direct discrimination because of someone's actual age is the only one of the three different sorts of direct discrimination that may be objectively justified as what the law terms 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. This means it must be proportionate, appropriate and necessary (economic factors such as business needs and efficiency may be legitimate aims).
Find out more about 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim' in the Acas guide, Equality and Discrimination: understand the basics [415kb].
Can occur where there is a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule which applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages people of a particular age. For example, a requirement for job applicants to have worked in a particular industry for ten years may disadvantage younger people. In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.
When unwanted conduct related to age has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
Unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about age discrimination.
Age discrimination rights apply to the vast majority of workers, including 'office holders', police, barristers and partners in a business. Under the Act, limited exceptions regarding age can be allowed in some areas. They can include pay and other employment benefits based on length of service. There are also some limited exceptions and exemptions relating, for example, to the National Minimum Wage, redundancy payments, insurance and pensions.
The Act says there are no upper age limits on unfair dismissal and redundancy.
Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent age discrimination in:
- determining pay, and terms and conditions of employment
- training and development
- selection for promotion
- discipline and grievances
- countering bullying and harassment
- when an employee is dismissed.
Making a claim of age discrimination
If someone feels they have been discriminated against, they may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. However, it's best to talk to the employer first to try to sort out the matter informally, in order to minimise the negative effects on all parties involved.
Claimants who wish to bring a claim or appeal to a tribunal will have to pay a fee. An initial fee will be paid to issue a claim and a further fee will be payable if the claim proceeds to a hearing. There are two levels of fee which will depend on the type of claim. Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.
Employers cannot force employees to retire or set a retirement age unless it can be objectively justified as 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. To find out more, see the Acas web page on Retirement.
Protected characteristics video
This video introduces and explains the nine protected characteristics.
Use the Acas Age Audit tool to assess what employees think about age issues in their workplace and the organisation's practices and policies.