The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has published guidance designed to inform employers and staff on matters relating to age discrimination. Under the Equality Act 2010, age is one of the nine special areas of life guarded as what is known as protected characteristics.
The guidance provides a helpful overview of the basic principles of age discrimination and the risks that could potentially arise within the workplace. Its purpose is to help employers and line managers manage an age diverse workforce, prevent unfair treatment at work, and eradicate bias against older and younger workers. It describes the various types of age discrimination and, in doing so, identifies some particular problem areas which all employers should be vigilant of. These situations can arise during the recruitment process, at trainings and promotion stages, during performance management, and at retirement. For example, at the recruitment stage, employers are advised to set out the type or types of experience needed for a role rather than ask for a certain number of years’ experience.
The guidance points out that age discrimination could lead to:
- poor decision-making when recruiting and promoting or deciding who gets trained
- the demotivation of existing staff who become aware of the stereotyping
- less trust among colleagues
- discrimination claims
The guidance also outlines instances where different treatment because of age can or may be lawful. These include:
- where the need for certain types of discrimination because of age can be lawfully proved by the employer
- the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage
- pay and any extra benefits and perks linked to certain periods of time with the employer
- where being a particular age or within a particular age range, or not a particular age, is a legal requirement of the job. This is likely in only very limited circumstances. In law, this is known as an ‘occupational requirement’
- some circumstances in redundancy. For example, deciding to keep staff who have been with the employer for longer, and making redundant staff with less time with the firm. This could be allowed if the employer can prove a lawful business reason in the circumstances—for example, keeping the most experienced staff who are fully trained and skilled as they are essential to the future of the restructured company
Employees or job applicants who feel they have been discriminated against on the grounds of their age can make a claim to an employment tribunal however the guidance does recommend that they take initial steps to speak with the employer informally to attempt to resolve the dispute.
The full guidance document can be viewed on the ACAS website.