Age discrimination

Age discrimination

Age discrimination: an introduction

People may be discriminated against because of their age. Young people may experience age discrimination by being belittled, passed over for jobs or being paid poor wages just because they are young, and older people may be denied jobs or refused work because an employer believes they are too old.

UNISON’s view of age discrimination

Equality is an important issue for UNISON. We campaign against age discrimination wherever we find it – just as we work to reduce discrimination based on disability, gender, gender identity, pay, race, religion/belief, marriage and civil partnerships and sexual orientation.

Every member of UNISON can help promote equality and fight discrimination in their workplace – and that means considering how we treat each other as well as how employers treat us.

2010 Equality Act

The 2010 Equality Act combines previous discrimination and equality laws in a single act. Discrimination because of a person’s age is treated differently from other types of discrimination because the law permits employers to discriminate because of a person’s age in a wider range of situations, if the employer can show that what it has done is justified. This is referred to as “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

In Northern Ireland, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 implement the age strand of EU Directive 2000/78 which establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and vocational training.

For example, a construction firm might be able to set a maximum age for jobs that are physically demanding and require a high level of fitness.

Age discrimination exceptions include:

  • benefits based upon length of service – it is not age discrimination for an employer to provide certain benefits, facilities or services on the basis of length of service, subject to the qualification that after five years’ service, the employer will have to show that the length of service fulfils a business need (for example, by encouraging loyalty);
  • minimum wage – it is not age discrimination to pay a young worker the lower minimum wage if that is the rate for which they qualify, this also applies for apprentices who do not qualify for the national minimum wage, as compared with those who do;
  • redundancy – it is not age discrimination to provide an enhanced redundancy payment that is greater than that paid to another employee, provided that they are calculated on the same basis;
  • insurance or related financial services – it is not age discrimination for any employer to limit access to insurance or related financial services to those aged under the later of the age of 65 / the state pensionable age. In Northern Ireland the exception is limited only to life assurance provided after a worker takes early retirement on ill health grounds, in such cases it is not unlawful for such cover to end at normal retirement age or 65;
  • child care – it is not age discrimination to provide child care only for children of a certain age. There is no equivalent exception in Northern Ireland;
  • contributions to personal pension schemes – certain age-based criteria are permitted in respect of occupational pension schemes.

How to prevent age discrimination

Age discrimination may be deeply engrained in the workplace. Although the law prohibits age discrimination, you can help change attitudes by:

  • understanding, or developing, local policies on age discrimination;
  • speaking out when age discrimination cases arise;
  • publicising that age discrimination is prohibited by law;
  • encouraging managers to take a strong lead on age discrimination.

Next steps for UNISON reps

Understand the law as it exists today, as set out in this Thompson guide to age discrimination

Encourage UNISON members to speak out when they feel someone is being discriminated against because of their age.

Key facts

  • Age discrimination affects many people – young workers may be underpaid or belittled, older workers may miss out on jobs because of their age.
  • Age discrimination is prohibited by the Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain and by the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.


Age discrimination

  • How can UNISON help reduce age discrimination where I work?

    By raising awareness and reminding employers that age discrimination will not be tolerated, UNISON members can reduce age discrimination at work.

  • My employer has asked me to do something that I think amounts to age discrimination. Will I be in trouble if I refuse?

    No. Provided what they’re asking is discriminatory, it’s against the law for your employer to treat you unfairly if you complain or refuse to do what they’re asking you to do.

  • What should I do if I see age discrimination where I work?

    Speak to your UNISON rep as soon as you can.