Focus on age discrimination

Related tags Age discrimination Retirement Discrimination

Age discrimination should be a focus for Philip Henson of's legal team of experts from London solicitors Joelson...

Age discrimination should be a focus for licensees.

by Philip Henson of's legal team of experts from London solicitors Joelson Wislon.

I have written before on about proposed legislation to prohibit direct or indirect discrimination at work, on the grounds of age. Age discrimination includes discriminating against both older and younger people.

In order to comply with agreed EU employment directive deadlines, the government is required to introduce legislation by 2006 to outlaw age discrimination in the workplace. The introduction of the legislation will have a major impact on all businesses and you would be well advised to consider how the introduction of non-ageist employment practices will affect your organisation.

There are around 19 million people aged 50 and over in the UK, which is 40 per cent of the adult population. Over six million people aged between 50 and state pension age are in employment and since 1997, the employment rate for older people has risen faster than that of the working age population as a whole.

The average length of time in current employment is much higher for older workers (13 years compared to seven years for those aged 25 to 49). Clearly, it does not make sense to discriminate against this valuable sector of the working economy purely on the grounds of age. However, the employment directive does recognise that differences of treatment on the grounds of age can sometimes be justified.

The government has sought to promote pre-legislation debate on age discrimination by establishing an organisation called Age Positive.

Consultation on the first stage of the implementation of the legislation has already taken place and a further consultation on specific proposals, particularly the complex issue of the mandatory retirement age, will take place later this year.

The government has issued a code of practice on age diversity that will help employers recognise the benefits of an age-diverse work force, with details on The code is divided up into specific sections on recruitment, selection, promotion, training and development, redundancy and retirement.


Employers should encourage applicants from all age groups.

When advertising positions employers should consider how to reach these different groups. Traditionally, older people rely on business networks and word of mouth, whereas younger people are more likely to use careers centres or the internet to find vacancies.

Employers should take great care when initially advertising a position to make sure that they do not discriminate on the grounds of age, either directly or indirectly.

Direct discrimination would include advertising for "mature" candidates or advertising a position for a candidate within a specified age range.

Stating that an applicant should possess a GCSE qualification in mathematics may potentially be viewed as indirectly discriminating against candidates who had left school before GCSEs were introduced.


Employers should ensure that the selection procedure is fair and consistent. Interviewers should be trained and should ask job-related questions. Applicant references should be checked in a consistent manner.

An employer could be making assumptions about an applicant's capabilities purely on age if, for example, references of older candidates were checked and not those of younger candidates.


Employers are encouraged to produce performance appraisals of their staff to allow them to make decisions on promotion.

Appraisals are good practice for all employers as they can help to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Developing any weaknesses would also motivate the employee.

Training and development

Employers should invest in the development of an employee's skills, and identify areas where improvements are needed. Some companies for example, make interest free loans available for staff to undertake educational courses, such as typing, management skills, or creative writing.


When selecting employees for redundancy, employers should use creative, job-related criteria and should ensure that a business maintains the staff and the skills that it needs to remain competitive. The government suggests that an effective way of dealing with redundancy is to ask for volunteers.

Employers should also consider the alternatives to redundancy such as part-time working, redeployment to other areas of an organisation and job sharing.


Employers should base decisions on retirement by considering the business needs and evaluate how skills and abilities can be replaced. Employers should offer and use flexible retirement schemes, and make flexible pre-retirement support available.

The government's top tips for being age positive

  • remove age limits from recruitment adverts, and avoid using words such as "young" or "mature"
  • use a mixed age interview panel in the selection process wherever possible
  • promote staff on the basis of performance and potential rather than age
  • any redundancy decision should be made on objective, job-related criteria. Automatically making workers over a certain age redundant, or operating a last-in-first-out system will lead to a loss of key knowledge and skills
  • employers should agree a fair and consistent retirement policy with employees, offer pre-retirement support and wherever possible, consider flexible or extended retirement options.

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