What do I need to know about age discrimination and the law?

What do I need to know about age discrimination and the law?

Age discrimination, which is often referred to as ‘ageism,’ occurs when you are treated unfavourably due to your age.

This guide focuses on age discrimination you may experience at work and how the law protects you.

If you require further help on a matter of employment law you can use our solicitor directory to the right of this article to look for legal advice near you.


Equality Act

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for you to be subjected to age discrimination in any aspect of your employment including:

  • Recruitment
  • Employment terms and conditions
  • Promotions and transfers
  • Training and dismissals.


The Act protects you from four types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination: for example, your employer says they will not promote you because you are too old
  • Indirect discrimination: for instance, your employer offers a training course exclusively to recent graduates thereby potentially excluding older workers
  • Harassment: for example, your colleagues make jokes about your age, which are offensive
  • Victimisation: for instance, after you make a statement supporting a colleague’s age discrimination complaint, you are bypassed for a promotion that you would otherwise have been given.


Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination can arise by someone treating you less favourably because of:

  • Your actual age (direct discrimination)
  • Your perceived age (direct discrimination by perception)
  • The age of someone you associate with (direct discrimination by association).


Although the Equality Act protects you from workplace discrimination, there is an exception where your employer can reach a decision based on your age if they can demonstrate that it is objectively justified and proportionate. This is only permitted in a limited number of situations and does not mean that employers can discriminate against you on the basis of your age on a whim.

One instance of when age discrimination can be objectively justified is when you are undertaking a physically demanding role and you are forced into retirement when you reach a certain age for health and safety reasons.

Direct discrimination on the grounds of your actual age is the only one of the three forms of direct discrimination that can be objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This means that the discrimination you are subjected to must be:

  • Proportionate
  • Appropriate
  • Necessary.


Economic factors, such as business needs and efficiency, may be considered legitimate aims.

Whilst your employer may be able to justify discrimination, they can never justify harassment or victimisation.


Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination can take place where there is a workplace policy, practice, procedure or rule that applies to all workers, but especially disadvantages people of a certain age.

For example, a requirement for internal job applicants to have worked in a certain industry for a decade may disadvantage younger candidates.

In some circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.



Harassment occurs when unwanted behaviour related to age has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.



Victimisation is said to take place when you are treated unfairly because you have made or supported a complaint about age discrimination.


Remedies for age discrimination

If you have experienced age discrimination at work, you should follow your employer’s grievance procedure in the first instance. If this is unsuccessful, you may want to seek advice about going to an employment tribunal.

The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) offers free advice and support on matters concerning workplace discrimination. You can call their helpline on 0300 123 1100. Lines are open on Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm and on Saturday from 9am to 1pm.

Alternatively, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS). They can advise you on the steps to take and the time limits you have to act within to pursue an age discrimination claim.

The EASS helpline is open on Monday to Friday from 9am to 8pm and on Saturday from 10am to 2pm. Their freephone number is 0808 800 0082.

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