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Ageism in the Workplace

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Last editedApr 20212 min read

Whether you’re a business owner or employee, it’s important to understand your rights. The UK’s Equality Act clearly sets out protections to prevent age discrimination, also called ageism. Keep reading to find out the meaning of ageism along with examples of what ageism looks like in the workplace.

What is ageism?

Ageism, or age discrimination, is a term referred to unfair treatment based on someone’s age. Employers need to understand Equality Act regulations regarding ageism to avoid any form of discrimination in the workplace.

Ageism can occur during any aspect of employment, including:

  • Recruitment process

  • Employment terms

  • Promotions

  • Transfers

  • Training

  • Development

  • Dismissals

There are also some exceptions to the 2010 Equality Act, which we’ll cover below.

Ageism and the Equality Act

As of 2010, the Equality Act states that individuals should not be discriminated against for any of the following age-related reasons:

  • They fall into a specific age group

  • They are perceived as falling into a specific age group

  • They are connected to someone in an age group

The definition of an age group is loose. For example, over 65’s might be discriminated against, or an age group could include everyone under the age of 30. The age group terms can also be quite vague, i.e., ‘elderly’ or ‘youthful,’ rather than specific age brackets.

Ageism examples and types

Age discrimination isn’t always overt. Under the Equality Act there are four different types of ageism described, including direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation, and harassment. Here are ageism examples under each of these categories:

1.Direct discrimination

This type of ageism is perhaps the most obvious, referring to any situation where a worker is treated worse than others due to their age. One example would be if your employer comes right out and says that you’re not eligible for a promotion because you’re too old.

2. Indirect discrimination

This second type of ageism is a bit trickier to define. An example would be when your employer only takes recent graduates along to a training seminar, leaving out older employees. Although the employer hasn’t directly stated that the training is only available for younger colleagues, it’s still discrimination.

A second example of this type of indirect discrimination might be due to someone being too young to indirectly be eligible for a promotion. For instance, a company might only promote workers with a postgraduate qualification. Those who fall below the age to have received this type of qualification would be at an indirect disadvantage.

3. Victimisation

Victimisation entails being discriminated against or treated poorly because you’ve made a complaint about age discrimination at work. It would also apply to you if you’ve supported a colleague who’s made a complaint.

4. Harassment

Harassment refers to any incident that makes you feel offended or humiliated on account of your age. An example of harassment would be if colleagues make mean-spirited or offensive jokes about your age. For instance, a supervisor might make comments about how slow an older employee is at picking up new software.

Exceptions to the Equality Act

As you can see above, there are multiple circumstances that might qualify as ageism in the workplace. However, not all situations are unlawful according to the Equality Act. Here are a few potential exceptions:

  • A certain age group is required to perform the job

  • The organisation is attempting to develop employees in a disadvantaged or under-represented age group

  • The difference in treatment is due to occupational safety regulations

  • A service provider is offering age-related benefits, such as flu jabs to over 65s

Basically, if the difference in treatment is justifiable and proportionate, it may not qualify as ageism.

The bottom line

Whether you’re writing a job advert for new recruits or developing a training program for existing employees, it’s very important to keep ageism in mind as part of employee management. Avoid any references to age groups and be as inclusive as possible with training, development, and promotions. Be clear with your communications at each stage. Ultimately, you want to attract and retain top talent across all age groups.

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