Age discrimination, apart from in very limited circumstances, is unlawful. It will create problems and upset within an organisation. In many cases, employers unintentionally discriminate because they are unfamiliar with the law. ACAS have recently published some key considerations for employers to reduce the chance of age discrimination happening:
Ageist remarks are likely to be discriminatory whether or not they are meant to be insulting – it’s the effect they can have that matters.
Make sure job applicants and employees are not discriminated against because of their age, the age they are thought to be, or the age of someone they are linked with.
Don’t discriminate against a job applicant because of age at any point in a recruitment process from job descriptions to job offers.
Don’t make age-based assumptions about what job applicants and employees are capable of and how they will behave. Such stereotyping is one of the most likely causes of age discrimination.
Don’t pressurise or bully an employee into retiring. And remember that generally the law doesn’t have a fixed retirement age for someone to retire by.
Base an employee’s pay, benefits and perks on their job and skills, not age. But remember, the law allows the improvement of pay, benefits and perks for service of up to five years and, where the employer can prove the need, for more than five years’ service.
Don’t assume there is more value in training younger staff and no or little value in training older employees.
Treat employees consistently and fairly when assessing their performance and setting future goals, no matter what their age.
Make sure policies and practices in the workplace don’t put an employee at a disadvantage because of age. Often this is unintentional.
The law does allow different treatment because of age in limited circumstances, but these exceptions can be complicated to put into practice correctly. An employer would need to be fully informed about using an exception, able to prove there is a real and important requirement for using it and confident there was no other option
ACAS have also released the top ten myths about age discrimination:
Myth: Some employers think older staff are more likely to be off work ill.
Fact: Research shows sickness absence rates are similar across all age groups.
Myth: Older people staying in work stops young people getting a job.
Fact: There is no evidence for this. Forecasts suggest more older staff will be needed to stay in work.
Myth: Talking to employees over 50 about their future work plans risks employers being accused of age discrimination.
Fact: An employer can ask an employee, no matter what their age, about their work plans in the short-, medium- and long-terms. But an employer must not design a different set of questions for an employee because of their age.
Myth: It’s ok for an employer to ask a job applicant: ‘Would you be able to manage a team of people older than you’.
Fact: This is the wrong question. Try asking: ‘Tell me about your management experience’. And ‘Have you had to manage any difficult situations?’
Myth: An employer looking to fill a demanding position can decide to interview only people between 30 and 45 to hire someone with a strong sense of responsibility.
Fact: No, it can’t. Applicants must be selected for interview based on the skills, knowledge and experience necessary for the role.
Myth: Older employees are difficult to train and less able to learn new skills.
Fact: There is no evidence to support this. Rather, it has been found that with well- organised, planned and coherent training, employees adapt regardless of age.
Myth: An employer is unlikely to get investment back in training staff over 55 and under 25 as they are both likely to move on in the near future.
Fact: As technology moves ever faster, most skill sets need updating frequently while the shelf-life of training to get there gets less and less. So all staff, no matter what their age, and the organisation too, are likely to benefit from training.
Myth: The performance of employees tails off as they get older.
Fact: Research shows there is no deterioration in performance in most types of work at least until 70. But what does make a difference is whether older employees get the same training as younger colleagues.
Myth: An employee must retire once they start taking their State pension.
Fact: The law no longer sets a retirement age. This means most employees can decide when they will stop working, whether or not they take or defer their State pension.
Myth: It’s ok for recruitment agencies to only send on applications from anyone under 50 because they know the employer won’t interview anyone older.
Fact: Apart from in very limited circumstances where applicants need to be a particular age, or within a particular age range, an agency must not filter applications this way and should not pass over details on applicants’ ages. If it does, both agency and employer are likely to be discriminating.
For more information on age discrimination or any other HR matter, please get in touch.