Age is one of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 (EQA 2010). Under the EQA 2010, discrimination, i.e. the treatment of someone unfairly because of a protected characteristic, is discriminatory and therefore against the law.
The EQA 2010 doesn’t only apply to employees. Instead, it offers protection to workers, those applying for jobs and even some self-employed individuals!
In light of the growing age difference that can appear in the workplace (in some places, a difference of up to 50 years), age is fast becoming the most common protected characteristic relied on in a discrimination claim. This is compounded by the number of different ways that discrimination can occur, for example, it may be based on:
- The age, or age group, of the individual
- The perception (right or wrong) of that person’s age
- The association of that individual with people of a certain age group.
Further, discrimination can arise in a number of different forms including:
In a bid to help employers and line managers manage their diverse workforces, prevent discrimination and eradicate age bias, ACAS have updated their guidance on age discrimination.
Within this guidance, there are 10 observations and 10 myths and facts which make for an interesting read. There is also a booklet which gives a detailed breakdown of ways to accomplish an inclusive working environment.
Within the guidance, ACAS have outlined some key events in the working life where discrimination may occur and tips on how to prevent this. Some of the key events include:
- Recruitment. When advertising a role, avoid saying anything that would suggest a particular age group would be preferable. Also set out objective criteria that will be used in the recruitment process.
- Training. Employers must not deny individuals’ training based on their age. Instead, they should encourage all staff that training is available if they want it.
- Promotion. Employers must not discourage individuals from applying for promotion and/or exclude people from promotion based on their age. Instead, they should make opportunities known to everyone who may be interested in the role.
- Salary and terms and conditions. Employers must not have different terms and conditions because of individuals’ age or perceived age.
- Retirement. Employers must not treat people less favourably because they are thinking about retiring.
- Dismissal. When dismissing an employee, there must be a genuinely fair reason and fair process conducted. Ageist language used during a dismissal process and/or suggesting that an employee should retire before or during the dismissal process is likely to give rise to a claim for discrimination.
Within the ACAS guidance, the reminder is given that it is not only employers who may be liable for acts of discrimination carried out by its employees. Instead, the individual who conducts the discriminatory acts may also be personally liable.
The ACAS guidance also gives some assistance with dealing with discrimination if and when it arises, but also methods of reducing the likelihood of it arising in the future. For example by providing employees with equality training.
The risks, of course, of getting it wrong include claims for discrimination, which do not require an individual to have a qualifying length of service and have no cap on compensation.
If you think your organisation would benefit from equality training, please do not hesitate to contact one of the employment team for more details.