Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Everyone knows it is illegal to discriminate an employee, job seeker or trainee in terms of his or her age. However, do you know that The Equality Act 2010 also makes it unlawful to discriminate against people in terms of their ‘perceived’ age or the ages of those they associate with?

Take a look at our guide to age discrimination in the workplace for more information.

What is age discrimination?

When an employer denies certain employees promotions, jobs or comparable wages because of their age, it is age discrimination. It may also occur on an everyday level – belitting or harassing people because of their age, for example saying that they are ‘too old’ or even comments about retirement with the ‘pipe and slippers’ cliché.

Acas breaks down age discrimination into four main types

1. Direct discrimination
This direct discrimination could be down to the employee’s actual age, but it could also caused by their perceived age. For example, if an employee misses opportunities because it is felt they look younger than they actually are. It may also be a result of who the employee associates with, for instance if they regularly socialise with people younger or older than themselves.

2. Indirect discrimination

Indirectly discriminating against an employee, or a group of employees, can occur where there is a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule that applies to everyone but particularly disadvantages people of a particular age.

Acas states that one example is “a requirement for job applicants to have worked in a particular industry for ten years may disadvantage younger people.”

3. Harassment

As with any harassment or bullying, unwanted attention and comments related to an individual’s age can create an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment.

4. Victimisation

Victimisation is where there is unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about age discrimination.

Are there exceptions?

In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. This is where the law permits employers to discriminate because of a person’s age in a range of situations, if the employer can show that what it has done is justified. This may include setting a maximum age for physically demanding jobs, benefits based on length of service, minimum wage qualifications or insurance or related financial services.

How can you prevent age discrimination in your workplace?

You must have policies in place that clearly set out the obligations to all employees to treat people fairly regardless of age, and educate your staff on their responsibilities. This would include policies such as

  • recruitment
  • terms and conditions of employment
  • training and development
  • promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • bullying and harassment
  • dismissal and redundancies.

If you require help introducing policies that prevent age discrimination in your business, contact us today.




How do you tackle Bullying and Harassment at Work?

Bullying and harassment at work, of any kind, should not be tolerated. It’s important to have a policy that deals with bullying and harassment, so you and your staff know how to deal with it, as well as the risks it poses to your business.

You, as an employer, are responsible for preventing bullying and harassing behaviour. What steps do you need to take to ensure that your staff feel safe at work?

What is bullying?

The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”.

The relevant protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Employees can complain of behaviour that they find offensive, even if it is not directed at them.

Acas lists examples of bullying/harassing behaviour to include spreading malicious rumours, insulting someone, exclusion or victimisation, unfair treatment or deliberately undermining a competent worker by constant criticism.

Bullying and Harassment Policy

A HR policy covering bullying and harassment is essential so staff know what constitutes as bullying and harassment and what they need to do if they believe that they, or another member of staff, are being bullied or harassed.

You need to make a clear statement about the standards of behaviour you expect in the workplace and what is unacceptable. This policy should also include the responsibility of staff to respect others and how to report actions they feel are inappropriate or threatening.

It is important that your team know that any accusation will be taken seriously and kept confidential.

Why do you need a policy?

Staff that feel attacked or harassed at work, and staff members that witness such actions, even if they are not the target, will suffer from low morale and poor staff/management relations. There will be inefficiencies in work output and you are likely to lose staff as a result. These staff may also feel too embarrassed to tell you why they are resigning, so there is a high risk that you will not know about the problem until it is too late to do anything about it.

Alternatively, accusations of bullying or harassment could lead to tribunals, court cases and payment of unlimited compensation.

If you need help with your bullying and harassment policy, contact HR That Helps today for advice 

Personal Relationships at Work – Have you got a policy in place?

Do you have a HR policy on personal relationships in your business? Whether it is a romantic or family relationship, it’s worth having steps in place that protect you, and the people involved, from potential risks that could harm them personally, and your company.

The commercial risk of favouritism and falsifying documents is a real one. You need to alert your managers to the risks, and make them aware of how employees may perceive (fairly or not) promotions, pay rises and job roles as a result of these relationships.

As with any relationship, there are two sides to this story that you need to consider – how to handle existing relationships within your business, and how best to protect your business should any new ones emerge.

Is it my problem?

If any relationship, romantic or otherwise, between two employees has or is likely to have an impact on working relationships, it is your business. Just thinking about these potential situations could give you a serious headache, even without a mention of a direct conflict of interest…

  • What if a manager starts seeing someone in his or her direct reporting line?
  • What are the potential implications for a father and son working together?
  • What if a new client is related to someone in your business?
  • How do you handle the fall out of failed relationship where the individuals are in the same department?

You can see already the potential for a breach of confidentiality, accusations of favouritism, sexual harassment claims, and much more.

As everyone knows, the workplace is a common place to meet potential partners. Statistics, and they vary; suggest that 40 – 56% of business professionals have had office romances. This could increase further in the future with longer working hours. Of those who started a relationship at work, nearly one third said their office romances lead to marriage. So you need to act now.

What do you need to do?

It’s worth creating a Personal Relationships at Work Policy, that details what is defined as a personal relationship, how it should be disclosed and who to, and the risks. These potential risks are then managed by setting rules of conduct in the workplace; and actions and remedies should a conflict, perceived or actual, occur.

These remedies could include moving individuals to different departments or buildings and changing aspects of management, decision-making and authority if there is a risk of the relationship interfering with the professional conduct and integrity of the business.

You should also consider running anti-sexual harassment training on a regular basis.

Do you have any policies in place with regards to personal relationships at work? Are they working for you? Let me know!

The Most Common (and Expensive!) HR Mistakes You Can Make

I often find the same problems in most of the companies I work with; and they are often very easily rectified. Here are my top three common HR mistakes, and what you can do as a manager to make sure they don’t apply to you!

1. Missing out on expert advice

In my experience, HR managers often feel they have to deal with situations themselves and miss out on valuable advice, particularly with regards to Occupational Health. You don’t know how much you can pry into the details of an employee’s illness, for example, and therefore you can be guilty of letting the problem get out of hand. Making the wrong call can be an expensive one, increasing the risk of a tribunal claim.

Securing the right HR, legal or medical advice at the right point not only helps you, but referring someone to an expert can also nudge the employee themselves into action.

2. Avoiding difficult performance conversations

People often contact me first and don’t speak to the employee themselves. You need to stop being kind and manage the situation.

Not talking about your concerns with an employee early enough, or with enough authority, can lead to more problems later. This can also seriously impact on your credibility within the business. Your team will get fed up of carrying an employee who isn’t performing as well – and you will get the blame. You need to manage your credibility as well as the employees within your team.

3. Brushing off Banter

This can be something as innocent as a Birthday or Retirement card, but it still has the potential to offend. Comments about peoples’ ages, mentioning that it’s time to retire, sexual innuendo, and so on; may be intended to amuse or provide a bit of light hearted entertainment but you must make your staff aware that even the simplest things can often cause offence in the workplace. I had an example of this recently with a simple retirement card. Comments that were made in jest actually caused the employee offence.

You need to be aware of the implications of workplace banter and put training in place so your staff are aware too. Banter can very easily turn into harassment.

If any of these apply to you (and I’m sure that they will) talk to me today to make sure the policies, procedures and training are put in place so they don’t result in increase costs and issues further down the line.

For more on common HR mistakes, read this article from the CIPD

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