Age – is it the Last Socially Acceptable Way to Discriminate?

Since 2006, it has been unlawful for employers to discriminate against an individual based on their age when The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations were developed. These regulations made it unlawful to discriminate, harass or victimise employees, job applicants, and trainees on the basis of their age (whether old or young).

In 2010, this was amalgamated into The Equality Act which is aimed at providing fairness in employment for a diverse workforce. In the Equality Act, ‘age’ has been established as a ‘protected characteristic’ alongside eight other attributes including ‘religion’, ‘sex’ and ‘disability’.

In 2011 we saw the removal of the Default Retirement Age (DRA), meaning employers could no longer use age as a reason for dismissing an employee.

Despite the increase in legislation preventing age discrimination, current statistics show that mature workers may still not be getting a fair deal in the workplace. Having seen a number of recent statistics, it would seem that age discrimination still appears to be an underlying problem in the modern workplace.

These statistics include:

  • 1.2 million over 50’s are unemployed;
  • Almost half of mature workers believe their age will hold them back when applying for jobs;
  • A third of mature workers believe they have been offered fewer training and progression opportunities due to their age;
  • With regard to career ambitions; 44% of older workers feel unsupported by their employers

The UK is seeing declining birth rates, longer life expectancy and diminishing pension provisions. The following figures illustrate how much the profile of the UK labour market is changing and how reliant the workforce will become on older workers:

  • The number of UK workers aged 50+ has increased by 20% since 2012;
  • The percentage of workers aged 65 and over has doubled in the last decade;
  • By 2020 a third of workers will be over 50;
  • In 20 years, almost a quarter of the UK population will be aged 65 or over.

People will need to become economically active for longer as life expectancy in the UK increases. It is concerning that those who choose to work into older age may face countless obstacles when continuing to work; physical and practical challenges, cultural and psychological barriers, organisational limitations.

Whilst mature workers can be viewed positively and associated with qualities such as reliability, strong work ethics, and experience; there are still many negative typecasts made about older workers, such as being less adaptable, less efficient, and higher risk of ill-health.

It’s time for UK businesses to consider what they can do to make their workplaces more supportive, inclusive and rewarding for older workers.

How can you reduce Age Discrimination in your business?

Although the law prohibits age discrimination, it can be embedded within the workplace. You can help change attitudes by ensuring that your business:

  • Has developed an Equality and Diversity policy to discourage and prevent age discrimination;
  • Has policies and processes that do not discriminate or create bias towards or against any age bands;
  • Equally offers job openings, staff development and training to employees of all age groups;
  • Encourages staff to speak out when age discrimination occurs;
  • Supports managers to take a strong lead on age discrimination;
  • Highlighting that age discrimination is prohibited by law;
  • Is attractive and feasible to work for to mature workers;
  • Embeds a flexible working culture;
  • Encourages an age-diverse workforce.

 If you need professional HR support, then please contact Kimberley Wallace at EmployAssist HR Services on 07584 575 212 / 0333 400 7920 or