Plain English Guide to British Employment Law
Age discrimination employment law helps ensure that you are not denied a job, an equal chance of training or a promotion because of your age. These employment laws also protect you from harassment or victimisation because of your age.
Age discrimination at work
Age discrimination at work is unlawful in almost all types of employment. All employees and workers of any age are protected from age discrimination including partners of firms, contract workers and anyone in vocational training.
All aspects of your employment (or prospective employment) are protected from age discrimination, including your:
- employment terms and conditions
- promotions and transfers
In some cases different treatment of a worker or employee because of their age can be justified. For example making special provisions for younger or older workers in order to protect their safety and welfare. See section on objective justification below.
Protection against age discrimination under employment law
Redundancy procedures and employment law
Your employer must make sure that any redundancy policies don’t directly or indirectly discriminate against older workers.
An example of indirect discrimination could be your employer selecting only part-time workers for redundancy, when a large number of these may be older workers. The only exceptions are where an age requirement can be objectively justified.
There is no upper or lower age limit on the entitlement of statutory redundancy pay. Your employer will have to pay you the statutory minimum redundancy payment regardless of your age.
The default retirement age (DRA), which allowed your employer to make you retire when you reached 65, has been abolished.
This means that in many cases you should be able to retire when the time is right for you.
Employment law unfair dismissal claims
There is no upper age limit on making a claim of unfair dismissal.
Training providers (including employers, further or higher education institutions, private, public or voluntary sector training bodies and adult education programmes) cannot set upper or lower age limits for training, unless they can objectively justify the need.
Service related benefits
Many employers use service related pay and benefits to motivate staff, reward loyalty and recognise experience. If your employer uses ‘length of service’ criteria to increase staff pay or benefits, they can continue to do so, as long as the period of service is not more than five years.
If your employer uses a period longer than five years they must be able to justify their decision with a business need, for example by providing information about recruitment and retention.
Can you be refused a job because you are too young?
It is not unlawful for an employer to request a candidate’s date of birth but this cannot be used to discriminate against the person. Older people experience most age discrimination. However, it also takes place against young people.
It is unlawful for an employer to impose a lower age limit when recruiting, unless this age restriction can be objectively justified or is imposed by law.
Employment Law: Objective Justification
If challenged, your employer must be able to justify that any direct or indirect discrimination is a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim.
What is proportionate?
Your employer should have no reasonable alternative other than to introduce an age-based practice.
For example, a construction firm hiring for physically demanding work that requires a good level of physical fitness, the employer might have a case for setting a maximum age for their on-site workers for health and safety reasons.
What is a legitimate aim?
A wide variety of aims may be considered legitimate, but they must correspond with a reasonable need for your employer. Economic factors, such as business needs and efficiency may be legitimate aims, but arguing that it could be more expensive not to discriminate will not be a valid justification.
For example, a high street fashion store who wishes to employ younger staff in order to complement their brand image is unlikely to be able to objectively justify this because it is not a valid aim.
What to do next
Talk to your employer first to try to sort out the matter informally. You are entitled to write to your employer if you think you have been discriminated against or harassed because of your age.
Making a complaint about age discrimination
If you feel you are being discriminated against at work, there are forms that can help you obtain information from the person or organisation you feel is responsible. You can then make a better, more informed decision about whether you want to start legal proceedings and, if you do, how to best present your complaint.