Workplace age discrimination law prohibits discrimination against someone on the grounds of age. All employees and workers are protected, including partners of firms, contract workers and people in vocational training, no matter how old they are.
The law applies to all areas of employment, including: recruitment; employment terms and conditions; pay and benefits; work status; training; promotion and transfer opportunities; redundancy; and dismissal.
Default retirement age
UK law does, however, permit companies to implement a
default retirement age of 65.
Refusal to hire people over retirement age
In addition, employers may refuse to hire someone over 65, or the employer's
normal retirement age, without having to justify it.
They can also refuse to consider an application from anyone who applies for a job within six months of their 65th birthday (or the employer's normal retirement age, if this is over 65).
'Objective justification' for age discrimination
Discrimination on the grounds of age may also be lawful where there is an 'objective justification' for it. For example, making special provisions for younger or older workers in order to protect their safety and welfare.
An employer must, however, be able to show that age discrimination is a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim.
What is proportionate?
The discriminatory effect of the measure should be significantly
outweighed by the importance and benefits of the legitimate aim.
An employer must have no reasonable alternative other than to introduce an age-based practice. If the legitimate aim can be achieved by less or non-discriminatory means then these must take precedence.
What is a legitimate aim?
A legitimate aim might include: economic factors, such as business needs and efficiency; the health, welfare and safety of the individual (including protection of young people or older workers); and the particular training requirements of the job.
A legitimate aim must correspond with a real need of the employer - economic efficiency may be a real aim but saving money because discrimination is cheaper than non-discrimination is not legitimate. The legitimate aim cannot be related to age discrimination itself.
Service related benefits
Many employers use service related pay and benefits to motivate staff, reward loyalty and recognise experience.
An employer can use 'length of service' criteria to increase staff pay or benefits so long as the period of service is not more than five years.
Employers using a period longer than five years must be able to justify their decision with a business need, for example by providing information about recruitment and retention.
Other exceptions and exemptions
Other exceptions and exemptions from age discrimination legislation include:
- pay related to the National Minimum Wage
- enhanced redundancy
- life assurance
- occupational pension systems
** Additional information & advice **
Depending on the circumstances of your case, however, it may be better to speak with a solicitor who specialises in employment law. You can be matched with an employment law solicitor in your area for free via solicitor matching services, which can also help you to understand the best course of action for your situation and whether you are ready to hire a solicitor.