Treating someone unfairly because of age is against the law (the Equality Act 2010), apart from in very limited circumstances, as age is one of the nine special areas of life guarded as what is known as protected characteristics.

With it now being possible to have an age gap between staff of 50 years or even more, age discrimination is one of the most common forms of unfair treatment at work.

To help employers to understand how age discrimination can happen in the workplace, how to prevent it, and how different treatment because of age can be allowed in certain situations, Acas has published three new guides:

Acas notes that key areas where age discrimination may happen include the hiring process — from the very beginning of working out what is required of an applicant, through to drafting the job application form, advertising the job, interviewing for it, using social media and offering the job.

It also reminds employers and managers that they must not allow any bias, stereotypical thinking or assumptions about age to creep into decisions about who gets trained or promoted.

Acas also highlights that, in most jobs, there is no longer a set retirement age, meaning almost all employees can decide when they will stop working. An employer must not assume an employee is retiring, suggest they retire or try to force them to do so.

The guides warn against using ageist language (telling an older colleague they are “over the hill”, for example, or calling a younger one “a poor little snowflake”).

When can different treatment because of age be allowed?

  • Where the need for certain types of discrimination because of age can be lawfully proved by the employer.

  • With regard to the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage.

  • If pay and any extra benefits and perks are linked to certain periods of time with the employer.

  • Where there is an “occupational requirement”, that is, being a particular age or within a particular age range, or not a particular age, is a legal requirement of the job.

  • In redundancy situations if an employer can prove a lawful business reason for keeping the most experienced staff, who are fully trained and skilled, in order to safeguard the restructured company.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director Kate Palmer

Employers should bear in mind that age discrimination can be very damaging to the working environment.

The new guidance reinforces the idea that just because an employee has reached a certain age, it does not mean they cannot still contribute well to company operations; it might be that they can be utilised to train up younger colleagues or assist them in making key decisions as they have gathered experience in the area.

The guidance also points out that it is not just older workers who can be discriminated against, younger workers are protected too.

Employers are encouraged to pay heed to the guidance due to the fact that unlimited compensation can be payable for a finding of discrimination.

Last reviewed 11 February 2019