Age discrimination

Article reference: UK-IA-EMP04
Last updated: December 2020 | 5 min read

Direct and indirect discrimination within employment on the basis of age became unlawful from 1st October 2006, unless objectively justified. It is one of the twelve human rights for your freedom not to be restricted by discrimination.

The relevant law is The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, which were a result of the EC Equal Treatment Framework Directive 200078EC of 27th November 2000.

The regulations apply to any organisation that employs staff, whether in the public or private sector. That includes vocational training providers, trade unions, professional organisations, employer organisations and trustees and managers of occupational pension schemes.

Workers, about which the regulations apply includes job applicants, employees, office holders, and employed partners.

The regulations affect all areas of employment including:

  • recruitment, terms and conditions, promotion and transfers
  • the provision of training
  • provision of benefits
  • dismissal
  • retirement
  • occupational pensions

and prohibit:

  • direct discrimination – that is, to treat a worker less favourably because of age

  • indirect discrimination – that is, to apply a practice, criterion or provision which disadvantages people of a particular age unless it an be objectively justified

  • harassment

  • victimisation

  • discrimination against someone after the working relationship has ended

An equality policy and action plan

To begin to address fairness at work, you can use an equality policy and action plan, or update an existing one. If your current plan does not include age related matters, it is essential that your updated version does. When drawing up the plan, it is a good idea to consult with your employees and their representatives.

You shold make sure the policy and plan address:

  • recruitment selection and promotion
  • training
  • pay, benefits and other conditions
  • bullying and harassment
  • retirement

A method of communicating the policy to all employees should be part of your initial plan. Your employees should be aware of what is expected of them in respect to the policy because you are most likely to be vicariously liable for any discriminatory actions they take.

By communicating your commitment to prevent age discrimination, you aid your defence should there be a claim made against you.


Your recruitment decisions should be based on the skills required to do the job, not the age of the prospective employee. You should:

  • remove age date of birth from the main application form

  • include in the application form, a diversity monitoring form to be retained by your human resources department

  • avoid asking for unnecessary information about periods and dates of prior employment because this could be interpreted as age-related information

  • avoid references to age in the job description – for example, do not ask for someone with a certain number of years experience

  • advertise in a way that is accessible to a large audience

  • avoid using words such as "mature", "young", or "energetic" as these could be interpreted as indirect discrimination

  • remove any "hidden messages" relating to age in your recruitment advert, such as pictures

  • make it clear that if you are looking for graduates, you are not only looking for people in their early twenties

Retaining staff

Many factors motivate employees to stay with one particular organisation. Employees are more likely to stay if they feel positive about your organisation and if they are treated with respect, regardless of their age.

Opportunities for promotion and training should be made known to all employees and be available to everyone on an equal basis.

Where employees apply for internal transfers or secondments, take care with informal and verbal references between departmental heads and supervisors. They should all be non-discriminatory.

Job-related training or development should be available to all employees regardless of their age. Monitor the training to make sure that no particular age group is missing out.

Review the style and location of training to ensure there are no barriers to a particular age group attending, it is suitable for people of all ages, and that everyone is encouraged to participate

Redundancy selection

You should check that procedures for redundancy selection are free from discrimination. Practices such as “last in, first out” and using length of service in any selection criteria are likely to be age discriminatory.

Policies and procedures

Review all staff policies and procedures, including those such as

  • sickness absence
  • leave and holidays
  • discipline and grievance
  • staff transfers
  • flexible working
  • use of computers
  • individual space requirements (ergonomic policies)

Retirement age

The new legislation provides for a default retirement age of 65. Compulsory retirement ages below 65 are unlawful unless objectively justified. In addition, employees have the right to request to work beyond that age. Employers have a duty to consider such requests.

You should check there are no hidden age barriers in your selection and promotion processes - e.g. aim to place advertisements in publications read by a range of age groups, and avoids using terms which imply a particular age group, such as mature, enthusiastic, highly experienced or recent graduate. You must also make sure that your redundancy procedures are based on business needs rather than age.

Practical steps to take now

  • Base recruitment and promotion on skills, ability and potential.

  • Encourage training and development for all employees.

  • Make redundancy selections only in accordance with the needs of the business.

  • Apply retirement plans fairly. They must take into account the needs of the business and the needs of the employee.

Relevant documents

Rather than editing employment contracts to comply with the law, you may prefer to draw new copies from contract of employment templates provided by Net Lawman.

© 1999 - 2024 Net Lawman Limited.
All rights reserved