According to Acas, age discrimination is one of the most common forms of unfair treatment in the workplace. Treating someone unfairly at work because of their age is against the law, apart from in some very limited circumstances. The common areas where age discrimination is most likely to occur are: recruitment, training, promotion, pay and terms and conditions of employment, performance management, redundancy, retirement, dismissal and flexible working.
Recently, HR Solutions presented a free webinar on Age Discrimination, which was recorded so you can watch it any time and at your convenience.
The key aims of the webinar and this article are to:
- Introduce the new Acas guidance on age discrimination and to understand its importance.
- Understand the types of discrimination and what is meant by ‘age’ in equality terms.
- Raise awareness of age discrimination and how it can arise.
- Remind ourselves of age-related issues that come up in working life.
Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) are a leading authority on workplace practices. They produce advice and guidance on workplace relations and provide statutory Codes of Practice. Employment tribunals will typically expect employers to follow the advice Acas publish. Those wishing to avoid liability should be proactive with the new Acas guidance on Age Discrimination.
Discrimination and Liability
Firstly, let us have a quick recap on the basics of discrimination. Generally speaking, discrimination, or unfair treatment, is less favourable because of a protected characteristic. The UK have nine protected characteristics, set out in the Equality Act 2010. The nine protected characteristics, that people have a legal protection from being discriminated against are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
There is no minimum length of service required, by an employee, to bring a claim for age discrimination. Discrimination because of age ‘… is unlawful from when a role is advertised through to the last day of employment and beyond, including job references.’
The key points to remember about age discrimination and liability are that:
- Employers and employees can both be liable for their own acts of discrimination.
- Sometimes employers are also liable for the acts of their employees. This is known as vicarious liability.
- Vicarious liability may be avoided if the employer can show they took all reasonable steps to try to prevent the discrimination.
Ensuring Fairness and Inclusivity
There are of course many reasons, as to why employers should want to know a bit about the guidance, other than avoiding having to take responsibility for the actions of others. Employers who wish to ensure fairness, make the workplace inclusive, and wish to avoid vicarious liability should familiarise themselves with the new guide and make adaptations accordingly.
Generally speaking employers want to:
- Treat all staff fairly, regardless of age
- Create and maintain an inclusive workplace
- Educate themselves about accidental or ‘unconscious’ discrimination and avoid it happening, and
- Employers do not want to fall foul of a discrimination claim.
Age Discrimination Overview
What is meant by age? Generally, employees are protected against unfair treatment because:
- They are a particular age
- They are in a particular age group e.g. ‘below 25’
- They are thought to be a particular age for what ever reason e.g. a person using a walking stick might be perceived to be in a ‘later stage of life’, but they could of course be any age.
- They are associated with someone belonging to a particular age group e.g. ‘babies’.
Types of Discrimination
A discrimination claim is possible when someone is: treated badly for being an age that they actually are not (direct discrimination); dismissed because they might raise a complaint about ageism (victimisation); mocked for being in a relationship with someone much younger (harassment); or required to have ‘any degree’ in order to apply for a job (indirect discrimination).
There are 4 main types of discrimination:
- Direct discrimination – someone is treated less favourably than others, which includes association and
- Indirect discrimination – where a practice applies equally to all, but disadvantages those with a particular protected characteristic (e.g. requiring someone has ‘any degree’ for a job is a rule that applies equally to all but puts an age group at a particular disadvantage because degrees are vastly more common within younger generations).
- Harassment – ‘unwanted conduct’ which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
- Victimisation – someone suffers a detriment because they have made, or may support an allegation of discrimination.
The New Acas Guidance
The new guidance is a handy and reader friendly resource, which contains clarity on what age discrimination is, the types of age discrimination that can occur, common risk areas and further considerations. It provides advice on what steps to take to prevent age discrimination from happening and on how to deal with age discrimination if it does happen.
For further information:
- Watch HR Solutions’ webinar recording on age discrimination at https://www.hrsolutions-uk.com/resources/videos-webinars-archive/
- Read the Acas article on age discrimination at http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1841
- Read the full Acas guide on Age Discrimination at http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/o/1/Age_discrimination_key_points_for_the_workplace.pdf
For advice on any HR related issue, for your organisation, call HR Solutions on 0844 324 5840. To find out more about all of our HR and support services visit www.hrsolutions-uk.com/hr-services.