Age discrimination laws help ensure that you are not denied a job, an equal chance of training or a promotion because of your age. They also protect you from harassment or victimisation because of your age.
Who is protected from age discrimination?
Age discrimination at work is unlawful in almost all types of employment. All employees and workers of any age are protected from age discrimination including partners of firms, contract workers and anyone in vocational training.
All aspects of your employment (or prospective employment) are protected from age discrimination, including your:
- employment terms and conditions
- promotions and transfers
In some cases different treatment of a worker or employee because of their age can be justified, for example making special provisions for younger or older workers in order to protect their safety and welfare. See section on objective justification below.
Protection against age discrimination
Your employer must make sure that any redundancy policies don’t directly or indirectly discriminate against older workers. An example of indirect discrimination could be your employer selecting only part-time workers for redundancy, when a large number of these may be older workers. The only exceptions are where an age requirement can be objectively justified.
There is no upper or lower age limit on the entitlement of statutory redundancy pay. Your employer will have to pay you the statutory minimum redundancy payment even if you are under 18 or over 65 (or after your normal retirement age if this is lower).
The national default retirement age is 65, although this is not a compulsory retirement age. Your employer can only retire you below the age of 65 if they can show that having a lower retirement age is appropriate and necessary.
Your employer will have to give you at least six months’ notice of your retirement date. You have the right to request to work beyond 65 or any other retirement age set by your employer. You will not automatically be allowed to work beyond your expected retirement date. Your employer does not have to agree to your request or give you a reason for turning it down, but they will have to hold a meeting with you to consider your request.
Unfair dismissal claims
There is no upper age limit on making a claim of unfair dismissal.
Training providers (including employers, further or higher education institutions, private, public or voluntary sector training bodies and adult education programmes) cannot set upper or lower age limits for training, unless they can objectively justify the need.
Service related benefits
Many employers use service related pay and benefits to motivate staff, reward loyalty and recognise experience. If your employer uses ‘length of service’ criteria to increase staff pay or benefits, they can continue to do so, as long as the period of service is not more than five years.
If your employer uses a period longer than five years they must be able to justify their decision with a business need, for example by providing information about recruitment and retention.
Can you be refused a job because you are too young?
It is not unlawful for an employer to request a candidate’s date of birth but this cannot be used to discriminate against the person. Older people experience most age discrimination. However, it also takes place against young people.
It is unlawful for an employer to impose a lower age limit when recruiting, unless this age restriction can be objectively justified or is imposed by law.
If challenged, your employer must be able to justify that any direct or indirect discrimination is a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim.
What is proportionate?
Your employer should have no reasonable alternative other than to introduce an age-based practice.
For example, a construction firm hiring for physically demanding work that requires a good level of physical fitness, the employer might have a case for setting a maximum age for their on-site workers for health and safety reasons.
What is a legitimate aim?
A wide variety of aims may be considered legitimate, but they must correspond with a reasonable need for your employer. Economic factors, such as business needs and efficiency may be legitimate aims, but arguing that it could be more expensive not to discriminate will not be a valid justification.
For example, a high street fashion store who wishes to employ younger staff in order to complement their brand image is unlikely to be able to objectively justify this because it is not a valid aim.
What to do next
If you feel you are at a disadvantage because of age-related criteria for recruitment or promotion policies, or if you think you are suffering age discrimination, you will be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it’s best to talk to your boss first to try to sort out the matter informally. You are entitled to write to your employer if you think you have been discriminated against or harassed because of your age.
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