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Age discrimination

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 pdf icon Age and the workplace: a guide for employers and employees [336kb].

Key points

There are four main types of age discrimination.

Direct 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, pdf icon Equality and discrimination: understand the basics [352kb].

Indirect discrimination

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:

  • recruitment
  • 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.

Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.

Through the Acas Helpline you can get free advice on specific problems and alternatives to a tribunal claim, such as Mediation or Early Conciliation, where appropriate.


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.

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